Monday, August 8, 2011

Week Two -- Cheese (Mozzarella)

This week we decided to make cheese. After the obvious (and I know sort of gross) jokes about “cutting the cheese”…. (Keep in mind I am cooking with an ten-year-old), we got to work. But, let me say right up front that the work begins when you have to find milk that will work in this project. The best choice is local, raw milk. But, that isn’t available to everyone and is frankly somewhat cost-prohibitive. (The gallon my mom found at a local farm was eight dollars.) The second best choice is organic milk, but here’s the rub. It can’t be super or ultra pasteurized. While ultra-pasteurization is awesome for extending the shelf life of milk, it kills the necessary components for turning that milk into cheese. For more information on this, check out The Cheese Queen’s website. She is the best resource for making cheese. For more a more detailed explanation of the types of milk, go to: For a list of milk that might be available in your area, go to:

Like I said, we were able to find raw milk at Lucky Layla Farms. By the way, this is also the very best place to buy Dulche de Leche. I didn’t know what this was until I tried it. Imagine the best caramel sauce you have ever had, and then take it up about seven notches. Now you’re close.

With raw milk, it is suggested that you heat it to kill anything that might be lurking in its creamy depths. I poured the gallon of milk into a big stainless pot and put it on the stove with my handy dandy candy thermometer in it. (I’m serious… I’ve gotten more use out of that thing in the last two weeks, than ever before.) I really had to keep an eye on the milk. It heated up quickly. I got it up to 145 degrees for 30 minutes. Then we had to cool it quickly. I used an ice bath for this. After that, the cheese making began. The directions are pretty straight-forward, but I had to read them about seventy times. I think now I get it after having read it once. Following is the recipe from The Cheese Queen. Barbara Kingsolver mentions Ricki Carroll (The Cheese Queen) in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Caroll’s website, is the best place I found for recipes, sources, and help for making any kind of cheese. We started with Mozzarella because it seems to be one of the easiest. Other easy things to make include: Cream Cheese, Sour Cream, Yogurt, Fromage Blanc, Creme Fraiche, Mascarpone, Lemon Cheese, Herb Cheeses, Buttermilk, Kefir, Panir, Queso Blanco, and ricotta.

Following is the recipe that we used for mozzarella cheese. It was really easy and I’m not just saying that. Harrison wants to make hard cheeses next, but that might have to wait awhile. That seems anything but easy.

Mozzarella Cheese

The Milk:
Make sure the milk you use for this cheese is NOT
--Homogenized milk will work fine.
--Fresh farm milk will also work well but we encourage you to try with 1 gallon of store bought whole milk first.
--Low fat milk will work but the cheese will be drier and less flavorful

1/4 tablet of rennet (we used the vegetarian option)
1 1/2 tsp. citric acid
1 1/4 c. water
1 T cheese salt (although I think most any salt would do)

You will also need:

--A 6 to 8 quart stainless steel pot. Aluminum or cast iron will not work.
--A stainless steel or strong plastic slotted spoon.
--A two quart microwave safe mixing bowl
--measuring spoons
--A thermometer which will clearly read between 80 - 120 degrees F.


  • Crush 1/4 tablet of rennet and dissolve in 1/4 cup of cool unchlorinated water and set aside to use later.

  • Add 1.5 tsp. of citric acid (diluted in 1 cup cool water to 1 gallon of cold milk and stir well.
    Now pour cold milk into your pot quite quickly to mix well with the citric acid . This will bring the milk to the proper acidity to stretch well later.

  • Next Heat this milk to 90F As you approach 90F you may notice your milk beginning to curdle slightly due to acidity and temp.
    NOTE: if having problems with milk forming a proper curd you may need to increase this temp to 95 or even 100F

  • At 90F remove the pot from the burner and slowly add your rennet (which you prepared in previous step) to the milk and stir in a top to bottom motion for app. 30 seconds, then stop.

  • Cover the pot and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.
    Check the curd, it will look like custard, with a clear separation between the curds and whey. If too soft or the whey is milky, let set for a few more minutes.
    Cut the curds into a 1" checkerboard pattern (as in photos above) and if a drier cheese is desired carefully cut and stir this curd to release more whey.

  • Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 105F, while slowly stirring the curds with your ladle. (If you will be stretching the curds in a hot water bath heat to 110F in this step.)
    Take off the burner and continue slowly stirring for 2-5 minutes. (More time will make a firmer cheese)

    Then scoop the curds with a slotted sp0on into a heat proof bowl to be used in the microwave. (If the curd is too soft at this point let sit for another minute or so)
    You will now press this curd gently with your hand, pouring off as much whey as possible. Reserve this whey to use in cooking.

  • Next microwave the curd on High for 1 minute. You will notice more whey has run out of the curd. Drain off all whey as you did before. Quickly work the cheese with a spoon or your hands until it is cool enough to touch (rubber gloves will help since the cheese is almost too hot to touch at this point)

  • Microwave 2 more times for 35 seconds each and repeat the kneading as in the last step. Drain all of the whey off as you go.

  • Knead quickly now as you would bread dough until it is smooth and shiny. Add salt near the finish. At this point the cheese should be soft and pliable enough to stretch like taffy.
    It is ready to eat when it cools.

  • Form it into a ball and drop into ice water to cool and refrigerate.
    When cold you can wrap in plastic wrap and it will last for several days but is best when eaten fresh.
    PS... I'll admit the cheese looks a little weird in the last photo, but it did firm up and get smooth as the recipe indicated and it was DELICIOUS!

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