This cheese thing is getting totally out of control. But now that I've got started, there is no stopping me. I have a collection of recipes I really want to try. I even found several recipes for Leipäjuusto, a Finnish oven baked cheese which is absolutely impossible to get anywhere outside Finland, and impossible to transport as you would need to keep it chilled during transport so that it won't spoil. Can't wait to try that out! Anyways, after a few successful attempts with the basic easy farmer's cheese, I felt it was time to take things up a notch. Mozzarella. Which requires a bit more than just milk and half a cup of lemon juice to make.
Best friend came over to help me out with this, after all, two PhD brains are better than one PhD brain, right? Well, there is of coure the Swedish proverb saying the more cooks, the worse the soup. But we have both been successful in the lab following very complicated protocols, so we felt like we were up for the challenge.
This recipe calls for some ingredients you don't necessarily find in your local grocery. However, the wonderful world of internet shopping brings it all to your fingertips at the flash of a credit card. I bought my citric acid off Amazon for just a few quid. The rennet was a bit more expensive, but I should now have rennet to last me at least the next 20 years. Well actually, maybe not if I keep up the level of cheese making I'm currently at. But for a long time nonetheless.
A few thoughts on the choice of milk. The recipe states that you can use pretty much any milk (skim, semi skimmed, whole) as long as it's not ultra hight temperature (UHT) pasteurised. Regular pasteurised will do fine, although apparently raw is best. But hard to get hold of unless you happen to have a cow or two hanging around. I was going to go for whole milk, but then I saw this amazing thing called Gold Top Milk, which has a bit more fat (it's 5.2%). So I ended up buying two litres of whole milk and a litre of the Gold Top hoping it would bring a bit of creaminess to the mozzarella. And yes, I know you should use buffalo milk for mozzarella, but my local Tesco doesn't seem to stock it for some strange reason. So this is cowzarella.
I picked up this recipe from Pinterest (you know, I hardly even have a look on there these days. Yeah right... Way more addictive than Facebook, I'll tell ya). I even have a whole board dedicated just to cheese! The recipe I used is from a blog called The Kitchn and it has some really good pictures and extensive instructions to aid in the loss of your mozzarella-making virginity. And unlike some other recipes I was looking at, this does the finishing steps in the microwave instead of heating the cheese in the whey during the kneading steps, so it was a bit easier and quicker.
This recipe has quite a few steps, but don't let that scare you. There is no hurry between steps, so you can take your time and read the instructions while cooking. Having an extra pair of hands holding the thermometer is always helpful, but you can manage alone no problem. Just keep your cool, read through the recipe once or twice before starting and then just proceed step by step when cooking. You will do fine, trust me. It's not rocket science. But it's ridiculously fun!
I made it myself Mozzarella:
3l milk (original recipe says a gallon, which is actually 3.7l)
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
1/4 rennet tablet
Make sure you also have a cheese cloth (or tea towel) lined colander, rubber gloves, a slotted spoon, a microwave proof bowl and a thermometer.
Start by dissolving the citric acid in 1 cup of water and the rennet tablet in 1/4 cup of water.
In a non-reactive pot (see here for a discussion on non-reactive cookware, I used my Teflon lined 5l pot) stir in the dissolved citric acid into the milk and heat on medium while gently stirring until the milk reaches 32 degrees C (90 degrees F).
Take the pot off the hotplate, stir in the rennet. Stir slowly while counting to 30 and then cover the pot and let stand untouched for 5 minutes for the curds to form. After 5 minutes they should look like "silken tofu" according to the original recipe, mine looked like severely thick grainy soup. But it was a bit firmer than the curds from the farmer's cheese. If you feel like the curds haven't solidified to look like the picture, let them stand covered a bit longer.
Using a knife, cut the curds to form squares. Make sure you cut all the way through the curds (which were not quite solid, but the cutting marks stayed in the curds). You can see how the whey is separating.
Put the pot back on the hotplate on medium heat, gently stir while heating to 40 degrees C (105 degrees F). Don't stir too vigorously so that you don't break up the curds too much. Take the pot off the hotplate and continue to gently stir for another 5 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to a microwave proof bowl. Don't worry that there will be quite a bit of whey in there as well. Microwave for 1 minute, and transfer into a cheese cloth lined colander to drain off the whey. Put on rubber gloves, and squeeze whey out of the curds. Transfer back to the microwave proof bowl.
Microwave the curds in 30 second intervals until they reach 57 degrees C (135 degrees F). This took 3x30 sec for me, and they actually ended up much hotter than 135. Don't worry if that happens, your cheese will still turn out perfect!
Add salt. Wearing rubber gloves, stretch the curds and fold over themselves for a while, they will soon get a nice mozzarella texture. Don't overwork it. When the texture is firm, form into several small balls, one big ball or anything in between. Congratulations, your mozzarella is done. You can eat it immediately, or store it in the whey in the fridge for a few days.
You know what mozzarella tastes like? It's like little bits of heaven. Well, this mozzarella tastes exactly like mozzarella! And you know how mozzarella feels when you chew? A bit chewy, a slight bit squeaky between your teeth. And you know what, this feels exactly like mozzarella! In fact, this is just like mozzarella. Only better. Because you made it yourself. You cooked the milk, made it curdle, heated it up and worked it until it became mozzarella. Me and Best Friend were giddy, we kept looking at each other saying "We made mozzarella". For some reason, I was convinced we would screw it up. It would turn out weird and not very good. But it turned out exactly like mozzarella! I can't stop saying that, because I still can't believe how amazing it turned out. I worked it with my own hands, I kept stretching the play-doh like cheese mixture in my hands, just because it felt so amazing. Ok, I realise this is probably not comparable with, say, sending men to the moon, discovering the structure of DNA or a finally getting that elusive glimpse of the Higgs boson. But pretty goddamn close.
We ended up enjoying our mozzarella fresh from the oven (well fresh from the microwave) with some juicy ripe tomatoes, basil and garlic butter baguette (you know, the one you buy ready made from the store and pop in the oven and pretend you baked it yourself). And you know what, it tasted exactly like mozzarella! Oh, maybe I already mentioned that.