At the Table

Homemade Fresh Mozzarella

Homemade mozzarella cheeseI talked last week about how amazed I am at the ease of DIY cheese-making, and today I’m following up that post with a recipe for fresh mozzarella. I love fresh mozzarella (those white, squishy balls of cheese that are perfect for Caprese salad but which cost an arm and a leg), but hardly ever buy it because of the price. I just can’t bring myself to pay $4 or more on the good stuff, especially since it’s usually for such a small package. Homemade mozzarella isn’t as easy as the ricotta I shared last week, but it is so much cheaper than storebought that it’s worth the work.  And when I say it’s not as easy as ricotta, that’s only because ricotta is crazy simple.  Mozzarella really isn’t that difficult – it just takes a few more steps, so you’ll want to dedicate part of an afternoon to it, at least.The basic process is that we curdle milk with citric acid and later, rennet. Once the curds have had a chance to rest and form a soft layer on top of the whey, they get strained, re-melted and then stretched (my favorite part!) and formed into a lovely ball of cheese which melts perfectly in lasagna or on top of homemade pizza.

Fresh Mozzarella – makes about a pound, or one 5-6″ ball

1 gallon of whole milk
1 1/2 t. citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 c. cool water
1/4 t. liquid rennet, or 1/4 rennet tablet, diluted in 1/4 c. cool water
1 t. cheese salt

Mix the citric acid solution into the milk and heat the milk in a large non-reactive pot to 90°.   Remove the pot from the heat and add the rennet solution, stirring with an up-and-down plunging motion for about 30 seconds.   Cover the pot and let the mixture rest for 5 minutes while the curds form. After five minutes, the curds should be in a thick, custard-like layer.  They ought to float on top of very clear whey, and you’ll be able to pull the curds back from the side of the pot without them totally losing their shape.   If they’re too soft after 5 minutes, let them rest for a few minutes longer.

Mozzarella curds

Curds after resting. You can see that mine are a little looser than they should be (faulty thermometer, so they were a few degrees shy of 90° – always test your thermometer first!), but they set up fine in the end.

Make 1″ criss-cross cuts through the curds, using a knife that will reach all the way to the bottom of the pot.  Place the pot back on the stove and heat the mixture to 110°.  Remove the pot from the burner and stir the curds and whey slowly for 2-5 minutes.   The longer you stir, the firmer your cheese will be.  I like mine at the 4-5 minute mark.

Ladle the curds into a colander (if yours are a little loose like mine in the picture, you might want to line the colander with cheesecloth first).  Make sure to place the colander over a container to catch the whey, which has lots of cooking uses.  Allow the whey to drain from the curds completely, pressing on them a little bit if you think it’s necessary.  While the curds are draining, heat a large pot of water to 175° for the next step.

If you strained your curds using cheesecloth, you’ll want to put aside the cheesecloth for this reheating and stretching phase, since it involves dipping the curds (still in a colander) into hot water.   Dip the colander and curds into your hot water for 30 seconds at a time, smushing and folding them with a spoon every time you lift them up.  As they melt, you will see that they start holding together better and eventually they will get stretchy.  This is when you’ll need to add the salt, and any other herbs you might want to add.

Stretching mozzarella curds

Curds just beginning to stretch and hold together

Once the curd is completely melted and holds together, you can stop dipping it and begin to stretch, stretch, stretch.  If it’s too hot to handle at first, you can use heavy rubber gloves or a couple of spoons (what I do) until it cools down.

Very stretchy mozzarella

Excited about how stretchy it’s getting!

You want to stretch until it has a nice sheen and holds together well (put it back into the warm water if it gets too firm to stretch before it’s done).  At this point, shape it into a ball.

Drop the finished ball of mozzarella into a bowl of cool water for 5 minutes, and then into a bowl of ice water for 15 minutes.  This cooling process will help it stay smooth and creamy.

The mozzarella should last at least a week in the fridge, but I think it’s the best right after it’s made.   Also FYI, if you make the curds but run out of time to stretch them, just pop them in the fridge and finish the heating/stretching process the next day.

Happy cooking!

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