Fresh mozzarella is one of the 7 wonders of the pizza world. It’s moist, tender, and super creamy – which makes it an amazing ingredient to put on your pizza. Making fresh mozzarella is considered by many people to be an art; from the act of making the curd, to the stretching process that gives it shape and texture. It’s one of the world’s most popular regional food specialties, and it’s now finally being made available outside of its birthplace. The availability of fresh mozzarella continues to increase, but it still may not be available in your specific part of the country. So today, we’re going to show you how to be resourceful and make your very own!
Making cheese probably sounds complicated, and while some cheeses certainly can be tough to make, mozzarella isn’t one of them. Although fresh mozzarella started with the milk from a female water buffalo, it’s now also made with cow’s milk – a flavor more familiar to most people. Although there are now many companies making the cheese in different shapes and styles, nothing can quite compare to the quality of a homemade, just-formed piece of fresh mozzarella cheese. Let’s take a look at how this fascinating process works.
If cheese was a house, curds would be the foundation. What are cheese curds? As un-appetizing as it sounds, cheese curds are the solid matter that forms in sour milk. When milk “curdles,” the whey is separated from the solid matter, hence the name “curd.” The process of curdling milk involves precise temperature control and a little bit of citric acid. So how do we make curds, and what ingredients do we need? Let’s take a look:
- 2 Qts. whole milk (don’t use “Ultra Pasteurized”)
- 1/8 tsp. liquid rennet (Less may be used depending on strength)
- ¾ tsp. citric acid
- Kosher salt
- Large chef’s knife or metal spatula
- Medium pot
- Large pot
- Basket strainer or colander
- 2 bowls (one to strain the curds, one to stretch the cheese)
Note: Before you begin making the curds, take the medium-sized pot and fill it with 2 quarts of water. Place on high flame and bring to a boil. We’ll use this water later in the recipe to melt and stretch the cheese.
- Place the large pot on the stove and pour both quarts of milk into it. Mix the citric acid with ¼ cup water and stir to dissolve it completely. Pour the citric acid/water mixture into the pot with the milk.
- Place the tip of the thermometer in the milk and heat the milk over medium-high flame until it reaches 90°F, then remove the pot from heat.
- Mix the rennet with ¼ cup water and stir to dissolve, then add rennet/water mixture to the pot.
- Place a lid on the pot and allow it to rest 8-10 minutes until a custard-like texture is achieved and the curds easily lift from the side of the pot. At this point, the whey should be mostly clear.
- Once the curds have set, take your knife or spatula and cut a grid pattern, top to bottom and edge to edge inside the pot of curds.
- Place the pot back on medium flame and cook, very gently stirring, until the curds start to melt into each other. (If you stir too much before the curds are heated the second time, they can end up breaking it apart.) The goal is to melt the curds together gently into a few pieces, rather than have them scattered throughout the whey.
- Once the curds have formed together, take the mixture off the heat and strain the curds from the whey into a medium to large size bowl.
- From this point, the curds are finished and ready to be made into mozzarella.
Forming the Cheese
- Once your pot of water has begun to boil, add salt until the water is considerably salty (it should taste like the ocean!) and remove the pot from heat.
- Use a large ladle to add scoops of salt water until the cheese is just covered.
- Using two wooden spoons, press and fold the curds together a few times. Once everything’s in a nice melting lump, begin to bring it out of the hot water, moving the spoons in different directions to ‘stretch’ the cheese.
Tip: At this point, you may need to remove some of the water in the curd bowl as it cools, and add more of the hot, salted water to continue stretching it. Check for lumps as you stretch to gauge if you need more hot water or continued stretching.
- Once the cheese has been fully stretched and becomes completely smooth, begin to roll it into a ball.
- Once you’ve formed the ball, pinch the bottom shut and place it in a cool bath of slightly salty water. Take note not to overstretch the curds, as they can become rubbery or tough if you do.
That’s it! It may sound daunting at first, but with a little practice you’ll be able to treat your guests to a pizza you made featuring fresh cheese you also made! Who knows, a few more pizza nights with the neighbors and maybe you’ll be teaching your very own fresh mozzarella lessons.