Friday, August 12, 2011

An Experiment in Mozzarella

A friend and I decided to try our hand at making mozzarella this weekend. Cheese-making has been on my must-learn list for a while, so I was thrilled to learn a friend had the same desire. We looked up a recipe in a cheese-making book, which called for a special mozzarella starter. Our reaction, ha. One, we weren't sure where we would find this if we did want to use it (to the best of my knowledge, our food co-op doesn't carry such things though it does carry rennet*--which I already owned--another necessary ingredient). Two, we didn't need enough starter for 13 gallons of milk (which is apparently what most starters provided). And three, we imagine ourselves better at making-do than that.

We knew recipes existed that didn't call for starter. We remembered reading them. Specifically, we both remembered reading about such a recipe in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was taken from Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making and which I've copied below. We looked up the recipe for 30-minute mozzarella and that was the recipe we tried. The recipe didn't specify what type of millk to use (i.e. - whole or skim or other), so we used 2%. According to the New England Cheese Making website, it doesn't really matter after all.

This recipe also calls for citric acid. We were skeptical. My friend asked if we could use lemon juice instead. Maybe? Probably not? We weren't sure and before experimenting too much (or, looking it up on the internet), we decided the easiest thing to do would be buying the amount of citric acid we needed from the bulk section of our co-op. It cost less than $1 for a lot more than this recipe calls for--but when I went to buy it, I bought extra on the chance/hope that it would go well and we'd make this again before I moved.

A friend of mine--and I use the term loosely, since I haven't talked to her in three years--makes goat cheese mozzarella with milk she gets from her small flock of Nubians (floppy eared goats, very popular as dairy goats). When she first told me about this, I was both impressed and skeptical. She said it used a lot of water and that the first few attempts had turned out poorly. I wondered what goat's milk mozzarella would taste like.  If you're interested, here is a link for a goat's milk mozzarella recipe--using a starter--from Mother Earth News. For this post, I tried to find out more about the farm my friend runs, Contrarian Farm, near Pittsboro, North Carolina--but could only find a few useful fact-lets about it on the interwebs. If you live near there though, I know they used to show up at the Pittsboro farmers market and I'm guessing they still do--there are enough recent entries on the internet about the farm and its owners. My friend also used to raise meat bunnies.

*Rennet, traditionally, comes from the stomach-lining of young calves, as a by-product of veal production. The rennet we used was a vegetarian rennet. There are a few varieties of vegetarian rennet. Vegetable-based rennet comes from plants with coagulating properties, such as thistles, nettles, and mallow. They can also be grown from microbes, such as Rhizomucor miehei. The type we used ("double strength" where 1/8 teaspoon will coagulate 2 gallons of milk) comes from this type of microbe.
Our Super-Strong Rennet

1 gallon pasteurized milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)

1 1/2 level tsp. citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup cool water 

Stir the milk on the stove in a stainless steel kettle, heating very gently.  At 55° add the citric acid solution and mix thoroughly. At 88° it should begin to curdle. 

¼ tsp. liquid rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool water

Gently stir in diluted rennet with up-and-down motion, and continue heating the milk to just over 100°, then turn off heat. Curds should be pulling away from sides of pot, ready to scoop out. The whey should be clear.  (If it’s still milky, wait a few minutes.) Use a slotted spoon to move curds from pot to a 2-quart microwaveable bowl. Press curds gently with hands to remove as much whey as possible.  
Just starting to form curds
Use the pot of hot whey on the stove for the heating-and-kneading steps. Knead the cheese with hands (rubber gloves would be good, according to Ricki Carroll) or a spoon to remove more whey. Put the ball of curd back in with a big slotted spoon, and heat it until it’s almost too hot to touch.  Good stretching temperature is 175 degrees. Repeat 2 times, kneading between each time.
It shouldn't look like this once you've pressed it out (attempt 1)
At this point, salt the cheese to taste, then knead and pull until it’s smooth and elastic. When you can stretch it into ropes like taffy you are done. If the curds break instead, they need to be reheated a bit. Once cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls to eat warm or store for later in the refrigerator.

The first time we made this, we overworked the cheese. The second time, we worked it less, got it hotter, and it made the process much easier. The cheese looked and pulled like taffy and we can't wait to make it again. Tomorrow.
We have smooth, shiny mozzarella balls (attempt 2)

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