Monday, July 14, 2008

Easy Cheesey

You want Mozzarella Fresca. You want to make it yourself. Seriously, you do. You cannot imagine how easy and quick it is. First, just go and get this kit, since it comes with everything you need, plus recipes. It includes enough stuff to make 30 pounds of cheese. Here, watch this.

You get some milk. Your only real limitation is that it can't be "ULTRA" pasteurized. I was kind of astonished at how that limits your selection at the grocery store. If you have a cow or a goat, more power to you. Anyway, you dissolve some citric acid (included in your mozzarella kit) into a bit of distilled water, then stir that into the milk, and start gently heating it to 86 degrees F. (There is a dairy thermometer included in the kit.) The milk will curdle. This is good.

curds forming

At the desired temperature, you dissolve a teensy bit of vegetable rennet into a bit of distilled water, then add that while gently stirring the milk, which has been removed from the heat. You only stir a few seconds, then just leave it alone for 5-8 minutes. When you come back, the curds should have separated from the whey. Recite "Little Miss Muffett," and then slice the curds into cubes. Optimally, they'll be fairly solid, like silken tofu, floating in clear yellow whey, so that you can ladle them out gently with a large slotted spoon, into a glass bowl.

curds separating from whey

If they're not holding together so well (these weren't), never fear. Just pour the whole mess into a giant bowl, through a large piece of butter muslin (included in the kit), and strain the whey out. What's left behind in the muslin will be your cheese curds.

In a glass bowl, zap the curds in the microwave for about a minute. (There is a microwave-free method that uses the heated whey; it's explained in the instructions that come with the kit.) Take them out and knead them like bread dough. You know, if bread dough was the consistency of ricotta. As you do this, more whey will be released from the curds, which will become firmer. Pour it off, and re-nuke the curds for about 30 seconds. Knead them again, being careful because they'll be getting hot. If you've ever made taffy, you'll be right at home. On the second or third heating, your curds will be getting melty and shiny, at least in the bowl. Knead them, and give them the stretch test.

stretching fresh mozzarella, by Bella

If the cheese breaks instead of stretching, it's not quite done. Heat it again and knead some more. Start tasting the cheese, too. This is a good time to add a teaspoon or two of cheese salt (if you like--included in the kit), or any herbs or other flavor additives you might desire. Your cheese should be just about too hot to handle, and it should be getting very shiny and very stretchy!

stretch and shine, by Bella

It will also be tasting DELICIOUS. If you can get from this point to actually using the cheese in a recipe, you're showing remarkable restraint, because you're going to want to just eat it ON THE SPOT, while it's warm. No lie. My daughter tried repeatedly to convince me that "we could just eat this cheese for dinner, just like this, with nothing else, RIGHT NOW before Daddy gets home." This is a great thing to make with kids, but be sure to give them rubber gloves, since they don't have "Mom skin" on their hands.

good stretch and shine, by Bella

When the cheese is shiny, smooth, and stretchable, start forming it into smallish round balls and plop the balls into a bowl of ice-water, for rapid cooling. Go ahead and make a joke about putting your balls on ice. You've earned it.

fresh cheese balls on ice, make your own joke

That's it! You have just made Mozzarella Fresca, and it took no more than 30 minutes, most of which were spent doing nothing but waiting. Aren't you pleased with yourself? But WAIT. That's not all. Remember all that whey you poured off the cheese? There's, like, 3/4 of a gallon of that stuff. Save it--it's liquid gold. To feel like a total superwoman (or man), go ahead and use a cup of it RIGHT NOW to make an easy, no-muss pizza dough. I'll print the recipe for that tomorrow. Tell the truth--will you not feel like something else entirely, when you serve a pizza and say that you made everything from the crust to the sauce to the CHEESE? Seriously. You are awesome. Respect.


OmegaMom said...


Okay, now, confess: Have you ever wondered just what in heck possessed human beings to think up such things as "putting rennet" into curdled milk? And then *kneading* it? My mind boggles. I'm sure it was a long, slow, historical process, but those two steps, right there, blow my mind...

Belinda said...

The popular speculation on that seems to involve a traveler carrying milk in a goat's (or camel or cow or whatever died that year) stomach, where the heat curdled the milk. If the animal's stomach was young and fresh, it could have had some natural rennet in the lining.

1blueshi1 said...

Belinda, thanks so much for posting this AND the link to the cheese kit!!! I am ordering it now, having read AVM as well and I have been wanting to make cheese ever since!
I usually get really into one thing and make it obsessively all summer long--a couple of years ago it was fruit soups. If that sounds good, try googling some recipes, my kids LOVE them and they are very easy to make.

C. Erickson said...

You are going into my feed reader. Right. Now.


Anonymous said...

Dude. Second the feed reader, this is the coolest. thing. ever. I can't wait to try it!!

geoff mcgilvray said...

I just stumbled upon this via an Eat Arkansas blog...awesome! Thanks, Belinda. I just ordered the kit...can't wait!

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