March 31, 2008
My First Batch of Mozzarella
Mozzarella is a pasta filata cheese, meaning that its curd is stretched or pulled.
This spring, I am beginning to make fresh cheeses at home. This category of cheese, including such favorites as cream cheese, cottage cheese, and fromage blanc, are among the simplest dairy products to make, along with butter and yogurt. While hard cheeses require aging in proper conditions (high humidity and constant temperature around 55 degrees), fresh cheeses are ready for consumption or refrigeration right away.
My goal in these first weeks of cheesemaking, apart from its edible rewards, is to understand the process of milk becoming cheese. On one hand, the mechanics are so simple that they take care of themselves: microbes in fresh, raw milk convert lactose into lactic acid, increasing the acidity of the milk and causing the separation of curd and whey. It is the cheesemaker's task to control the conditions of this process-- ingredients, temperature, timing, and sanitation-- to produce the desired outcome of edible cheese instead of spoiled milk.
On this day, I was intent on crafting fresh mozzarella, using the method described in Ricki Carroll's popular book, Home Cheese Making, and materials purchased from her business, New England Cheesemaking Supply. I used unpasteurized milk from Cook Farm, which is licensed by the state to sell it at their farm store.*
You may view my slideshow of photos with captions describing the process of making mozzarella.
The process to make this mozzarella called for two gallons of milk, and took over five hours. During this time, I monitored the temperature and acidity of the milk almost constantly. I used pH test strips to test the acidity of the milk periodically. Though it was difficult to get a precise reading, I could determine that the pH was decreasing, as it was meant to do. The large pot containing the milk was set in a hot water bath over a low, gas flame. It was difficult to maintain the 90 degree temperature the recipe called for-- the temperature kept creeping up to 100 degrees. Curd formation happened quickly, so I felt reassured that I was on the right track in spite of these snags.
Overall, my first batch of mozzarella was successful: its flavor was fresh, it melts beautifully, and no one who ate it suffered gastric distress. However, its texture was tough, even rubbery. This unfortunate feature revealed itself in the curd-cutting stage, when I had to secure the slippery curd mass with a spatula so that I could pull the knife through it. I could tell when stretching the cheese that it wasn't going to have cloud-like consistency.
Jim Wallace, the technical advisor at NECS, informed me that farm-fresh milk may require less rennet and lower temperature to set. It seems that my raw milk is really eager to become cheese. For the next batch of mozzarella, I won't use a double boiler at all, but will warm the milk in a sinkful of warm water. I'll use less rennet to promote a softer curd.
I kept several pieces of brined mozzarella in the refrigerator for eating over the following few days, and froze the rest in individual baggies of brine. We'll use them to top homemade pizza over the next few weeks.
If this account has prompted a craving for fresh mozzarella, there are quicker options for making it in your own kitchen. NECS sells kits to make 30 Minute Mozzarella using your microwave. Other companies sell fresh mozzarella curd, ready to be submerged in hot water, stretched, and shaped.
Stay tuned for more cheesemaking adventures!
*The decision to consume raw milk products is a personal one. I have a healthy immune system and trust the farm that supplies my raw milk. Women who are pregnant or nursing, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are advised to avoid raw milk. In the U.S., it is illegal to sell a raw milk cheese that has been aged less than 60 days. An Internet search will provide information from both sides of the raw milk debate.