Fresh Mozzarella 3.0
Means of stress relief are different for everyone. Some people focus on quiet, reflective activities like meditation, reading, prayer, gardening. Others gravitate toward social comforts like hitting the gym, calling friends or arranging a get-together. Me? More often than not I seek solace in fresh ingredients, sharp knives, the warmth of the oven and stove, using my two hands to create something delicious.
These were a particularly taxing couple of weeks. I regained the majority of my composure and, to no great surprise, find myself all but running into the kitchen. (Not with the knives; never the running with the knives.)
With nearly two gallons of milk left in our refrigerator from dashed hopes of a second ice cream, and no desire to do an encore now, the question at hand was: “What to make? What … to … make …?”
From as far back as I can remember, a significant player in my diet was cheese. Legend says it was my first word and my first food. Whether or not those are truths, the process of turning plain milk into curds and whey, and then transforming the curds into one of many hundreds of distinctly unique cheese types, absolutely fascinates me. That I can do it at home myself is even more exciting and rewarding.
Though the project does require some preparation and a few kitchen tools, it’s easier than you might expect. As yet I’ve tried homemade ricotta, paneer and halloumi. But the cheese I turn to most: sweet, mild, so-wonderfully-milky mozzarella. It’s fresh creaminess and hit of tang gets me every time.
Today I’m sharing my preferred method, plus tips I’ve learned through experimentation, to take you through making your own mozzarella. All it takes is three basic ingredients and about two hours of your afternoon.
What’s in it for me?
A one-ounce serving of mozzarella (about the size of four dice) contains approximately 5 g protein, which is actually a combination of two high-quality proteins — casein and whey. These provide energy, curb hunger, stabilize blood sugars by slowing absorption of glucose into the bloodstream after meals and snacks, and also may improve blood pressure levels. Whey* is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the body’s essential amino acids. It is also a fast-acting protein and utilized very rapidly, which can limit muscle breakdown and help repair and rebuild muscle if consumed within one hour following moderate to intense physical activity. (*Tips in the HGN Notes below for how to use the recipe’s leftover whey.)
Mozzarella is a great source of calcium and a good source of vitamin D, both important for strong teeth and bones, guarding against osteoporosis, and maintaining healthy blood pressure. Also found in mozzarella in moderate levels are phosphorous, vitamin B12, zinc and biotin: Phosphorous is another nutrient required for healthy bones and teeth, while vitamin B12 is important for normal functioning of your nervous system, cell synthesis, and absorption of iron. Zinc aids in the growth and repair of tissues, promotes skin and nail health, and may prevent and improve symptoms of macular degeneration. Biotin provides energy, plays roles in both cell growth and metabolism, and is important for hair, skin and nail health.
If you’re watching your figure, don’t be put off by the whole milk. While whole milk mozzarella is slightly higher in fat than its mass-produced “part-skim” cousin (approximately 6.3 g fat per ounce vs. 4.5 g, respectively), it can still fit into a well-balanced diet. As you have just read, mozzarella offers many nutritional benefits!
Mozzarella — as well as cheddar, Swiss, Colby and Monterey Jack — contains less than 1 g lactose per serving, and may be a well-tolerated dairy options for lactose intolerant/sensitive individuals. (Try a smaller serving size first, and if no symptoms develop, stick to that amount or consider gradually increasing. This is not appropriate if you have a diagnosed lactose/dairy allergy, unless your physician approves and has provided explicit instruction.)
If you’re wondering why I titled this post 3.0, it’s because this wasn’t my first homemade mozzarella rodeo. Nor was it my third, but it’s the third of my blogging** documentations.
Here are some of the favorite ways we’ve used ours over the years…
+ Torn into small chunks and added in the final moments of baking the above tomato and fresh mint leaf pizza. [Equally as nice and slightly more decadent: lay paper-thin prosciutto and torn fresh figs (or dried figs reconstituted in warm water or white wine) over slices of mozzarella, finishing with chopped fresh rosemary and aged balsamic.]
+ Laid onto a shallow dish and dressed with homemade basil oil infused with lemon and a mixture of peppercorns, paired with other tapa-style small plates.
+ On an open-faced sandwich of toasted seedy bread, a layer of green pesto, sauteed garlicky mushrooms, lemon zest.
+ Cubed atop a spinach salad with strawberries, thin shavings of red onion and a simple vinaigrette. This salad is a summertime A+, too.
+ Cold-smoked over hickory or cherry wood. Use in pasta, on pizza, in salads, as a snack…
+ The classic Caprese’s thick mozzarella slices tucked between rounds of tomato and fresh basil leaves, a generous dress of extra virgin olive oil, salt and cracked pepper always pleases, but Forest Feast’s version made (our way) with roasted acorn squash, chunks of red onion and avocado, red jalapeño slices, mint, pomegranate arils and aged balsamic was a treat!
+ And one for the Superbowl this weekend. Thread a cube of mozzarella, a big green olive, plus red and yellow grape tomatoes onto a skewer or sturdy rosemary sprig for a healthier game-time nibble. Mozzarella, melon balls and fresh basil leaves would be great as well.
Be warned: Once you’ve eaten fresh homemade mozzarella, you may never want that vacuum-packed mozzarella again. Though, is that really a bad thing?
Tell me… Give a shout out for all the interesting things you do with mozzarella!
- 1 gallon whole milk, cold
- 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp cool water, divided
- 1/4 rennet tablet, crushed, or 1/2 tsp liquid rennet
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt, optional
- Pour the entire gallon of cold milk into a large, 6- to 8-gallon, stainless steel or enamel-coated iron pot like a Le Creuset. (Do not use aluminum or straight cast iron -- these are reactive, and will not work. Drop the stainless steel utensils while you're at it, too.) Dissolve the citric acid in 1/4 cup cool water. Once the citric acid is completely dissolved, add the solution into your milk and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Over a medium-low flame, heat the milk to 90° F. As it warms you'll begin to see some curdling of the milk -- this is good. When the milk reaches 70° F, dissolve the rennet in 2 Tbsp cool water, allowing it to sit about 5 minutes only while the milk continues its temperature climb. (If after 15 minutes the milk has yet to reach 90° F, increase the heat slightly.)
- Once the milk reaches 90° F, remove the pot from heat and slowly add the dissolved rennet and make gentle top to bottom stir strokes, like folding, for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and leave undisturbed for 30 minutes.
- At this point the milk mixture will look a bit like custardy, blobby mass with separation between the curds and whey. Using a long, sharp knife, cut lines through the curds 1/2-inch apart, making sure you reach all the way to the bottom and sides. Repeat these same cuts in the opposite direction to create a cross-hatch pattern. Now turn your knife on an angle and slice diagonally in one direction, and then in the opposite direction, to create rough cubes of curd.
- Place the pot back on the stove over a low flame and heat to 90° F, stirring slowly. Hold at 90° F and continue to stir occasionally for 15 minutes. Depending on your stove, you may need to adjust the flame or take the pot off the burner now and again to keep the temperature constant. (It's really not a make-or-break thing, but definitely try your best.)
- Pour the mixture through a large sieve, and stir and press to allow whey to drain from the curds. If you want to save the whey (trust me, you do!), place the sieve over a large, deep bowl or pot, at least 4-quart capacity.
- When most of the whey has drained, transfer 1 cup of the curds (roughly half) into a 4-cup glass measuring cup or other large microwave-safe bowl. If desired, sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt over curds and mix in with your spoon. Place curds in the microwave, and zap on high 1 minute. The curd will be VERY HOT. Unless you have asbestos hands, put on some rubber dish-washing gloves or use your wooden spoon to work the cheese around in a kneading motion, draining off the whey as you go. The idea here is to disperse the heat and release more whey to achieve that nice, springy texture of mozzarella.
- After 30 to 60 seconds of working the curd and pouring off the excess whey, try kneading with your hands (if you aren't already with the gloves on). Fold and stretch and fold some more, like kneading bread dough, until it begins to stiffen up and smooth out. Form a ball, and drop it into a bowl of ice water to cool. (If when you begin kneading the curds aren't coming together and stretchy like taffy, microwave on high for another 30 seconds, and knead again.) Repeat the microwaving, kneading, ball-forming and chilling process with the remaining 1 cup of curds.
- When the balls of mozzarella have cooled, wrap them individually in plastic and place in a zip-top bag or tightly sealing container. You can also place the mozzarella balls in a small container, and cover with a mixture of 1 tsp salt + 1 cup cooled whey. Either way, mozzarella keeps in the refrigerator 5 to 7 days, but is best eaten when fresh.
- To enjoy at a later time, remove cheese from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before using.
The rennet may also be found at your local natural foods market. Otherwise, it can be found at cheese supply stores, and often at beer- and wine-making supply shops. You can also order it online from a variety of places.
The liquid whey is packed with protein. Save it to use in smoothies, as part of the liquid for cooking grains, or as a substitute for the water in baking breads or the buttermilk in pancakes and waffles. The acidity imparts a slight tang and, for doughs, a light, fluffy crumb.
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