Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why Bother? 2012 - Mozzarella Cheese

After my success with ricotta cheese, I was very excited try my hand at a little more involved cheese - mozzarella.  However, there was one problem.  New Jersey was conspiring against me in this particular challenge. 

After much reading, leafing through multiple cookbooks and cruising the blogosphere, it was the general consensus that you should use raw milk to make your mozzarella cheese.  Unpasteurized, non-homogenized, raw milk.  There was just one problem to my obtaining said raw milk, it is illegal in New Jersey to commercially sell raw milk. 

I couldn't find it in my supermarket, at any of the small co-ops or sitting in a cooler at the farmers market.  Raw milk is a precious, and apparently illegal, commodity.  Over the past few years, groups have brought bills to the state senate to legalize the sale of raw milk.  As of right now there is a bill with the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that would allow the sale of raw milk under certain conditions, whatever that means.

Due to the current laws of the Garden state, the only way for me to get raw milk would be to cross a border into either Upstate New York or Pennsylvania.  I know there are lots of dairy farms upstate, but I thought it would be a little excessive to drive over seventy miles just to buy milk.  That would be one expensive gallon of milk.  Instead, I went to Whole Foods and bought a gallon of organic, pasteurized milk.  If you can get your hands on raw milk, I'm a little jealous of you!  If you can't, just be sure to buy milk that isn't homogenized.  That won't work at all.

With the raw milk drama behind me, I was able to get down to cheese business.  Along with my organic milk, I got out a big (non-reactive) pot, my jar of citric acid (not from the lab!) and my rennet tablets.  Sounds a bit like a science experiment, right?  Here's a breakdown of what everything is doing.

You need a non-reactive pot, which is any pot made of clay, enamel or stainless steel.  Do not use your fancy copper or aluminum pans.  Copper and aluminum will react with the acid you will be adding to the milk and impart a metallic taste on your cheese.  I used a stainless steel Dutch oven.

Citric acid is one of the most common acids found in your house.  Those oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits are sour because of their high concentration of citric acid.  You need to use it to sour the milk.  What you are actually doing is changing the pH of your milk.  As you lower the pH of the milk from nearly neutral (around 6.8) to slightly acidic (roughly 4.6), the proteins in the milk precipitate, separating from the liquid whey.  I got my citric acid from the King Arthur Flour online store.

Hi, I'm citric acid!
Rennet is a bunch of enzymes that we use to coagulate the milk and completely separate the curds from the whey.  Chemically, rennet is a protease.  This means that it breaks down the proteins, breaking bonds of the amino acids and making the proteins smaller.

All these sciency things come together to make delicious cheese.  And it was a very fun and non-sciency process.  I'd recommend making mozzarella cheese to everyone.  Does it taste much different from store bought fresh mozzarella?  There isn't a huge difference, especially if you get yours at a farmers market or Italian deli, but yours will definitely be fresher!

One Year Ago:  Vegetable Risotto

Mozzarella Cheese
From the Junket Rennet Box

There are plenty of recipes for making mozzarella cheese, they all pretty much involve milk, acid and rennet.  There are varying suggestions for times spent at different temperatures, but in general you can follow any of the directions and get a delicious final product.  I put mine on a pizza, then I ate the rest of it from the container.

1 gallon milk (preferably raw, at the very least not homogenized)
1 1/4 tsp citric acid, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
1/2 tablet junket rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup salt, dissolved in 1 quart water (for brine bath)

In a large, non-reactive pot, heat milk over low heat to 88 F.  Add citric acid and stir for 15 seconds.  Add rennet and stir for 30 seconds.  Remove pot from the heat and wrap with a kitchen towel to keep warm.  Let milk sit for 1-2 hours, until the curds achieve a clean break (Poke a finger into the curd and hook it through the curds.  Lift your finger out.  If the curds break, rather than slide, over your finger, they're ready).

Using a long knife or offset spatula, cut curds into 1/2-inch squares.  The top of your curds should look like a checkerboard.  Place the pot over low heat and slowly bring up to 108 F.  Keep pot at this temperature for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Collect curds by pouring into a sieve lined with a fine cloth.  Allow the curds to drain for 15 minutes and transfer to a large bowl.  Add salt and stir to mix thoroughly.

Place 1 cup of curds in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Drain off any liquid and knead curds in the bowl with the palm of your hand.  Microwave for another 20 seconds and knead again.  Pick up the cheese and stretch it out, folding, then stretching again.  Continue microwaving for 20 seconds at a time and kneading/stretching until you reach your desired consistency.  Place cheese in brine bath and let sit overnight.  Eat it all within a week, this shouldn't be too difficult.
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