Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

This sumptuous cheese is worth the challenge.

article image
by AdobeStock/katrinshine

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons citric acid, dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
  • 1 gallon pasteurized whole milk — not ultra pasteurized
  • 1/4 rennet tablet, or 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
  • 1/4 cup cheese salt (sea salt is fine; no additives)

Equipment

  • Stainless steel stock pot
  • Dairy thermometer
  • Perforated ladle
  • Stainless steel potato masher
  • Wire whip
  • Really sharp knife
  • Clean rubber gloves for kneading curd
  • Pyrex custard cups or some small clean container
  • A smooth surface for kneading

Directions

  • Start off by putting a little non-chlorinated water in 2 custard cups or small containers. Add the citric acid to one and the rennet to the other. Stir them both until they're dissolved and set aside.
  • Now add the citric acid to milk that is at 55 degrees. (Fifty-five degrees is a little warmer than your average fridge. Use your milk thermometer to find out what temperature your milk is.) 
  • While stirring briskly, add the citric acid  slowly to the milk. Whisk it all in. It’s important to distribute the citric acid evenly and quickly, to avoid curdling the milk.
  • Now heat the milk to 90 degrees. It probably won't burn but stir it gently and constantly anyway. Remove the pot from the heat and slowly stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion for about 30 seconds. This is where I found that a potato masher works well. The rennet will start acting on the milk pretty quickly. Just make sure you incorporate the rennet well. The up and down works but for some reason circular stirring does not.
  • Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes. Set your timer. 
  • After 5 minutes check the curd. There should be a clear separation between the curds and whey. If the curd is too soft, or the whey is too milky, let it stand for a few more minutes. If the curd is granular, and not forming a custard-like consistency, don’t freak! It may be that the milk was been ultra-pasteurized even if it wasn't labeled that way. Granular curds can still be used to make the cheese. The stretch may not be as elastic and the final texture might be softer. This is what happened to me but it turned out all right so forge ahead if this happens to you.
  • Cut the curd into approximately 3/8 inch cubes. Make sure your knife is sharp so it pulls as little as possible on the curd. Don't worry if the size is not exact.
  • Place the pot back on the stove and heat the curd to 110 degrees F.
  • Now remove from the heat and using your slotted spoon stir slowly for 5 minutes. Stirring for 5 minutes will produce a firmer cheese.
  • After 5 minutes scoop out the curd with a slotted spoon. Put it in the bowl. If it falls apart a little don't worry. You see my curd fell part quite a bit. Keep going if this happens. It will form into balls once you start handling it. Reserve the whey.
  • Now squish the curds gently with your hands forming the size units you want. Squish out as much whey as possible. Pour what you get into the whey pot.
  • Add 1/4 cup cheese salt to the reserved whey in the pot and heat it to 175 degrees F.
  • While the salted whey is heating up shape the curd into one or more balls. I wanted bite size so that's what I did.  Once the whey has reached 175 take the pot off the heat so it doesn't get hotter. Then scoop your round units with a slotted spoon and float them in the hot whey for several minutes. My recipe said "seconds" but it wasn't enough. I found that letting them sit for 2-3 minutes worked better. I think the hot water kinds of melts the curd which makes it easier to "knead".
  • Knead the curd by hand between each dip, and repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable. This is how you "knead": you knead by folding the curds over and over on themselves. It's not kneading like bread dough. The kneading helps to distribute the heat through the curds. Fold and press. Fold and press. Your curd will become smooth, shiny, almost melted looking. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Keep an eye on the whey temperature. If it gets too cool the curds will not warm sufficiently. If it gets too hot the curd will dissolve. It's OK if your curds have to sit on the counter while the whey heats back up. Remember: once it's heated to 175 take it off the heat. My whey hovered around 175 plus or minus a few degrees. It doesn't have to be 175 exactly but it can't vary widely.
  • Continue to knead and float the curd units back into the hot salted whey, until the curds have melded into a single, glossy mass, and will stretch like taffy. As you fold and press try to shape the balls as round as possible. Do not expect your balls to look like store bought! Manufacturers have machines for precision. Homemade should look homemade! This is what it's all about! You can eat it while it's still warm or you can put it in ice water. The ice water helps make the texture smoother.
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I’m still on my cheese kick. I’ve been making easy cheeses and with those successes under my belt I feel I have a right to graduate to something more challenging. Fresh homemade mozzarella cheese is not the easiest cheese to make. Cottage cheese, panir (or paneer), chevre are a lot easier to make at home. However, the flavor of homemade mozzarella cannot be surpassed and, therefore, it is well worth the trouble. I scoured the internet for a good recipe and made all the mistakes so you don’t have to. If you follow my suggestions I think you’ll be successful.

The difficulty in making homemade mozzarella is not so much in the process itself for the process is quite simple and does not take a lot of special ingredients or supplies. It can be done in a day and you’ll be eating mozzarella in a few hours. You don’t have to age it for a few months. The difficulty lies in the care that must be taken in adhering to and performing the instructions. Mozzarella is not forgiving like other homemade cheeses. You have to do what you have to do it when you need to do it in the way it needs to be done. As long as you know what you’re getting into and are willing to submit to the discipline you will be rewarded. Have I scared you away? Don’t be! Let me break it down for you.

Get your supplies all lined up and clean and your ingredients measured out. When you’ve done that we’re ready to proceed.

I put what balls I haven’t eaten (they’re hard to resist!) in a jar and cover them with oil and herbs, to marinate. This cheese is best eaten fresh, within 2 days of making.

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