This weekend, St. Stephen’s Market coordinator and Richmond Food Collective blogger Erin Wright invited me to do a demo at the St. Stephen’s Market. Pizza Tone has been making fresh mozzarella lately, so I thought that would be a perfect topic for said demo.
The morning was lovely despite the heat, and my modest crowd of onlookers asked some very impressive questions – For example, when making mozzarella, “Does all the lactose go to the whey” [making mozzarella lactard friendly.] The answer, I discovered after a bit of research is that lactose is present in both the whey and the curds, and thus the mozzarella as well.
Making mozzarella is a process; it’s very similar to baking – measuring, timing, multiple steps that are all essential to the outcome of the final ingredient. But, if you can follow directions and allow enough time, the actual steps are easy breezy.
Also, there are multiple mozzarella demos available that claim that you can make mozzarella in the microwave once you’ve gotten to the curd stage. Several thoughts come instantly to mind when I hear this, namely an irate Estelle Getty, back from the dead to kick my ass.
Are you willing to risk that? Me neither; use heavily-salted, nearly-boiling water like our foremothers.*
Large Stainless Steel Stock Pot (8-12 qt)
Rubber Gloves (as heatproof as necessary)
1 Gallon Unpasteurized Milk (locally, you can find “meow milk” at all of the farmer’s markets and at the Farm to Family market. Avoid using Ultra-pasteurized milk. The pasteurization has denatured the proteins too much to make cheese!)
1 1/2 tsp. Citric Acid, dissolved in 1/4 c. bottled water (Ellwood Thompson’s in Richmond has powdered citric acid in bulk in the vitamin aisle.)*
1 tablet (or 1 tsp.) Rennet, dissolved in 1/4 c. bottled water (Rennet is available at The Compleat Gourmet and, in all likelihood, other specialty food shops.)
a lot of salt.
Act I: Curd Ferguson
Bring milk to room temperature. Place milk and citric acid in a large stock pot with a digital thermometer, and heat on medium until the milk reaches 88 degrees F. Add the Rennet, and turn off the heat. Allow to sit for approximately 30 minutes.
After about a half hour, check for a clean break, the point at which you can poke your curds and whey and create a hole that the whey will quickly rush to fill. At this point, break up your curds into leeetle curd pieces. There are plenty of recipes that will instruct you to cut the mound of curd in various patterns, but what they’re all getting at is leeetle pieces of curd. Allow the curd to hang out for another 10 minutes.
Slowly bring the curds up to 108 degrees and turn off the heat again. Allow the curds to sit for another 30 minutes. The curds will continue to get small.
Ready a mesh strainer with a bit of cheese cloth over a large vessel. This is where your whey will go, so decide if you’re keeping it for bread, ricotta, or a nutitious treat for your pets, and get something appropriate to put it in.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds into the strainer. Suspend your sack of curds and allow to drain over a proper receptacle for no less than an hour, preferably overnight. There are plenty of recipes online that will shorten this stage, but I think it makes for a better texture and flavor in the final product, and believe that it’s best not to rush when making cheese…or anything really. Make a little home for your draining curds in the fridge, and revisit them in the morning.
Act II: Mozzarella Time
Have an icebath at the ready to catch your balls of mozzarella.
Bring approximately 6-8 qt. water (with enough salt to taste like the sea) to a boil. By now, your curds have drained off all their whey and gotten quite tight with each other.
In a large bowl, break apart the curds so that they look like crumbled chevre. Carefully pour the hot water over the curds until they are just covered.
Don your gloves and get stretching! Smush the curds together. If your water is hot enough, this should be effortless. If your water has cooled off too much, strain it off and add more hot water as necessary.
Take the mound of curd, and stretch it like a giant piece of taffy. Fold it over on itself, and stretch it again. You’ll instantly start to see changes in the curds. That’s because they’re turning into cheese! The proteins are stretching and creating the ‘snappy’ texture you find in fresh mozzarella.
I have seen tutorials that advocate kneading the mozzarella like dough. Here’s the problem with that: It’s not dough. You’re not trying to develop gluten, and if you manhandle the moz, you’ll smush out all the cream. Stretching is best.
Pinch off a small ball of the cheese. Make an ‘ok’ sign with your right hand, and use your left hand to force the cheese through the hole in your index finger and thumb. Pinch together the bit at the bottom and gently roll between both hands. Deposit the cheese into the ice bath and continue to process the rest of the cheese until it’s all done.
It is ready to be eaten immediately, or you can plastic wrap it and store it in the fridge for about a week. If you want harder, saltier cheese, you can allow it stay in the refrigerator even longer, but so far I haven’t had enough patience to prove that.
And that’s that. Not terribly complicated, but it’s still much easier to let Pizza Tonight do it for you. You can find our fresh moz at the William Byrd House Market on Tuesday afternoons or at the South of the James Market on Saturday mornings. And soon, you’ll be able to find it in stores!
*You can also use a combination of buttermilk and yogurt to generate the citric acid level necessary to start breaking down the proteins, but I haven’t tried this method yet, so I shan’t instruct others on it.
**Author is not actually Italian.