I remember the first time, a few years ago, when I caught a cheesemaking demonstration on a cooking program. It was about 3AM, and for whatever reason, I was up watching cooking shows. I’d like to say that that was a one time deal, but it actually happens pretty often. The women on the program, dressed in hairnets and pristine white food industry-style jackets, swirled their hands around in a big briny tub, gracefully plucking out glistening mozzarella balls with ease. The voice over told me that I could do this at home. Certainly they must be talking to someone else.
I completely forgot about making cheese for quite a while. And then those soft shiny balls of mozzarella began to be my five-year-old’s favorite thing to eat. So when a local chef told me a story about making mozzarella at culinary school, the wheels started churning. A few months later Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” hit the stands. A book packed with the stories of a family’s commitment to producing almost all of their own food for a year, it details an intriguing cheesemaking session with the Queen of Cheese, Ricki Carroll.
How is it that I still haven’t done this? I thought to myself. So we did.
In early January a handful of Buffalo Rising staff and five readers picked from over 40 entrants went about the art of making cheese. The Executive Performance Center on Linwood was kind enough to let us take over their amazing kitchen, which they use for hands-on teambuilding programs in addition to preparing superb cuisine for their clients. It was the perfect size for us, and with snacks from Duo, a few nice bottles from Cobblestone Wine & Spirits and the guidance of Sandra Starks from Slow Food Buffalo, we were well on our way.
Making mozzarella is simple. Armed with a few dollars worth of supplies we were able to produce two batches of mozzarella (amidst much talking, sipping and snacking) in just under two hours. We’ve included our version of the recipe here and a quick slideshow tutorial, but there are a few things you should know before you get started.
Obviously the most important ingredient is the milk. Ideally, you could call up a local farmer and get your hands on some gorgeous, fresh, unhomogenized milk. If you can, good for you (I have milk envy). But for most of us, that’s not practical. Milk from the supermarket will work perfectly fine, but there is something you need to look out for. Milk that has to be shipped a long distance to sit in a cooler for a lengthy period of time goes through a process called Ultra Pasteurization. Ultra pasteurized milk will not make cheese–even if it’s labeled organic and costs $4 a quart–it won’t work. What you need is milk that is as local as possible. I chose to use milk from Upstate Farms, a WNY dairy cooperative whose product is readily available at local grocery stores.
Secondly, you’ll need to purchase two products that will develop the curd necessary to make cheese. The first is citric acid, which is available at the Lexington Co-op in their bulk section, or at Niagara Tradition, an area supplier of brewing, winemaking and cheesemaking equipment. You will also need vegetable rennet tablets, which can also be found at Niagara Tradition as well as some local supermarkets. Both of these items are extremely inexpensive; we spent less than $10 on supplies (including a fancy thermometer) which will make at least a dozen batches of fresh mozzarella, if not more. While you’re at Niagara Tradition, you might as well pick up some cheese salt. You can use high quality flake salt (like Maldon) when making mozzarella, but it’s just as easy to buy it while you’re already out gathering ingredients. The rest of the tools you’ll need fall under the heading of “Basic Kitchen Equipment”, and the time investment (including clean up) is less than an hour, so what have you got to lose?
I’d also like to suggest that before embarking on your cheesemaking adventure that you consider viewing this pictorial. If you’d like to make cheese without a microwave, here’s a tutorial for you. one of my favorite ways to enjoy mozzarella is wrapped around a filling of prosciutto or basil- here’s a simple recipe.
Making cheese at home isn’t an exact science, so don’t feel defeated if your first attempt doesn’t firm up, or if after several perfect batches you end up with one that won’t hold together. The successful batches produce amazing results and the more you make, the better you get. For answers to Frequently Asked Questions, check out the Cheese Queen’s website. Once complete, your soft, supple mozzarella drizzled with a little olive oil, some pepper and a smattering of fresh basil, leaves you with a delicious snack and a real sense of accomplishment.
Buffalo Rising’s Fresh Mozzarella
1 gallon of whole “local milk” (homogenized and pasteurized will work, ultra pasteurized will not) ∙ 1/4 tablet of vegetable rennet ∙ 1/4 cup bottled water ∙ 2 tsp powdered citric acid ∙ cheese salt
Stainless steel pot, measuring spoons · mixing spoon · thermometer · sharp knife · colander · microwave proof bowl
Dissolve 1/4 tablet of vegetable rennet in 1/4 cup of room temperature chlorine-free water. Combine 1 gallon of cold milk and 2 tsp of powdered citric acid in a stainless steel pot. Stir thoroughly. You’ll see in the slideshow that the milk begins to develop a curd-like texture shortly after the acid is introduced. Heat the milk very slowly to 90 degrees. Add rennet. Stir for less than 10 seconds, trying not to disturb what will become curds.
Turn off heat and let sit for 3-5 minutes. Test the quality and firmness of the curd by seeing if you can gently pull it away from the edge of the pot, separating it from the whey. Once the curd has developed thoroughly, while still in the pot and using a sharp knife, cut the curd into 1″ cubes. Let stand 3 minutes. Gently strain into a large colander, trying to disturb the curds as little as possible. Transfer curds to microwave proof bowl and heat on “high” for 1 minute. Remove from oven and manipulate curd with a spoon to strain off remaining whey. Return to microwave and heat on “high” for 35 seconds.
Again remove from oven and manipulate curd with a spoon to strain off remaining whey. Return to microwave for a final round, again for 35 seconds on “high”. (This second heating on “high” for 35 seconds may be unnecessary. Prod each batch along the way to determine it’s ability to stick together and form a mass.) Use a spoon to knead curd in bowl until cool enough to turn out onto a work surface. Knead and stretch until it becomes shiny. Add flake salt to taste and shape into balls. Cool at room temperature or by placing in a cool water bath. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.