What if I told you that you could make delicious, fresh mozzarella in 30 minutes at home. No, I'm not kidding and yes, it is awesome. You already know how much I love homemade ricotta; now I have another cheese to add to my repertoire!
My friend Melissa and I have been talking about doing this for a while, and I am so glad that we went for it! All you need is a gallon of whole milk, rennet, citric acid, salt, a cheese thermometer (shows lower temp range than a candy thermometer), and cheese cloth. Everything except the milk is available in an awesome kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company ($25 and makes 30 batches!). You can also just buy those things individually. The kit comes with a very handy instruction and recipe booklet, but the instructions are also available on the website.
On the subject of milk - butterfat is necessary to make cheese, so please use whole milk. Also, ultra-pasteurized will NOT work (pasteurized is fine). There are instructions on the website for pasteurizing raw milk, if you want to go super fresh. The main ingredient and flavoring comes from the milk, so use the highest quality you can find. I recommend milk from local, grass-fed cows for the best quality (more info on Melissa's post).
We have made mozzarella twice. The first time we were still getting the hang of it and overstretched the mozzarella. It was still yummy, but more like the texture of string cheese. So the second time we handled it much less and it came out beautifully (we used it to make delicious margherita pizza). So don't freak out if it doesn't turn out exactly the way you want it the first time. You may need to do it a few times to get the feel of it. And make sure that you have read through all the instructions a few times first. It's not difficult, but it is a lot of steps.
So - first step! Dilute 1 1/2 tsp citric acid in 1 cup cold water and pour into a large pot. Add the milk and stir vigorously to combine (you want to make sure it is evenly distributed, pouring the milk in second helps with that). It will already begin to curdle a bit. Slowly heat to 90 degrees F, then remove from heat and add 1/4 tsp (1/4 tab) rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cold water. Cover and leave for 5 minutes.
After the 5 minutes, the curd should have set to a custard like consistency. You can pull the curd away from the edge of the pot to check, there will be a yellowish liquid underneath (that's the whey). Cut into the curd in a grid pattern to make large cubes (we used a skewer so that it would reach the bottom of the pot).
Put the pot back over heat and stir gently until it reaches 105 degrees F.
Take the pot off the heat and keep stirring for 2-5 minutes. The longer you stir, the harder the cheese - I recommend 3 minutes. You will notice a change in the texture of the curd.
Strain the curds from the whey (this is where the cheesecloth comes in handy). So. Much. Whey. Use it to soak grains, make bread or pizza dough, as a replacement for buttermilk, or add to smoothies.
Now comes the crazy part - heat for 1 minute in the microwave! Drain off the whey. Then heat again for 30 sec and drain off the whey . Check the temperature and repeat as needed until it reaches 135 degrees F. Add salt only at the end of this process (and don't dump salty whey in with the other whey).
Time to stretch! This is where you determine the texture of your finished product. The more you work it, the firmer it will be. The photo is of our first attempt when it was quite hard. Just stretch it once or twice for a soft, fresh cheese. Also - it will be really, really hot (135 degrees to be precise) - so wear rubber gloves if your hands are sensitive.
Form it into a ball and plunge it into cold water, make sure it is completely covered. Add ice and let sit for 15 minutes. You really need to cool the inside of the ball so if the ice melts, add more. You can also make several smaller balls instead of one large one, or a log, or whatever you want.
Oh my goodness. You just made cheese! Store it wrapped in plastic wrap for a few days (not submerged in brine like at the store, that mozzarella is made a different way), but it is really best eaten right away.
Now you could stop there, and I definitely recommend eating some of it just like this, but you could also make something with it. Like pizza.
Just a few slices on top of some quick homemade sauce and dough (even better if made with whey), drizzled with olive oil.
Then topped with fresh basil after it has baked.
To make the sauce - just take canned or fresh tomatoes, squeeze, puree in a food processor with salt and a little garlic (optional), then strain. You want it thick - extra moisture leads to soggy pizza.
And that's it! A totally simple but delicious meal with all homemade ingredients, what could be better?