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.
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.
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.
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.