As some of you know we lived in Italy 2006-2007. Er, I should say, we lived in Rome, which is more like a southern/eastern Europe enclave prone to strikes, bureaucracy, gridlock traffic, corruptness, graffiti, pollution, and great food! In fact, living in Italy taught me that it wasn’t that I was a terrible cook, it was that I was using terrible ingredients.
In Italy one has to shop at least every other day because anything you buy (cheese, milk, produce) goes bad in three days. The reason for this is that everything is fresh and ripe (no green oranges or tomatoes here) and there are no additives or preservatives. Additionally, the produce grown in Italy is grown with an eye for taste – not for transport, storage or firmness. All in all this means that anyone (including me!) can be a fantastic cook.
The difference between Italian and American produce was so pronounced that when Thom and I returned home we joined with five neighbor families and created a community garden on our property.
This group of people (plus one other family)…
…turned this patch of land…
…into this garden plot…
…which turned into these beds…
…which turned into this bounty of produce…
But I digress…back to the mozzarella. What I meant to say when I started this post is that in Italy we got used to fresh soft mozzarella, and I haven’t been able to find a substitute in the U.S. or here or anywhere. I was hoping that making my own would change this. There’s such a difference in taste.
So, first I gathered the ingredients: fresh milk, rennet (I used liquid vegetable rennet) and citric acid. I tried reading up on what the citric acid did and it either adds flavor, the characteristic mozzarella stretchiness or lifespan. Who knows?
Other things to have ready are (1) a large pot of 175 degree F salted water (2 oz salt/gallon water) ready (you’ll use this for the “stretch the curd” phase), (2) a small bowl of ice water with ice cubes in it to keep it frigid, and (3) a glass finishing bowl of salted ice water, into which you’ll immediately place your finished cheese when you’re done (you can just take some of the hot brine in step 1 and refrigerate it; just make sure the salt is totally dissolved if you start off with cold water).
The first step was to bring the milk (with the citric acid mixed into it) up to 90 degrees F very, very gradually, on the lowest heat possible. (For the citric acid I pulled out a cup of the milk and dissolved the citric acid into it before adding it to the whole gallon.)
Once the milk reaches 90 degrees take it off the heat, add 1/4 teaspoon rennet and leave it sit for 10 minutes. After ten minutes the whey and the curd will have separated and the curd will look like custard; the whey will be clear.
Then, you cut the curd in vertical and then horizontal cubes. (This is fun!) Place the pot back on the low heat and bring it up to 105 degrees F while stirring very, very slowly and very, very gently.
As you can see, the curds are pretty runny, especially compared to “normal” cheese curds. When you’ve let the whey drain just a bit in the colander place your colander into the pot of salted 175 degree F water and start working the cheese in a circular motion with a spoon (pressing it flat and stretching it away from you and then bringing it back). Once it’s all melded together and starting to stretch, dip your hands in the ice cold water and take the mound of cheese into your hands and start gently (very gently) stretching it out very long like taffy and then folding it over onto itself.
(I was by myself so couldn’t take photos of the actual stretching so stole this one below of someone’s website — find source of photo by clicking on it.)
Constantly keep dipping the cheese into the hot water (and your hands in the ice water if it gets too hot for you) as you gently stretch and loop over. The first time I stretched mozzarella (in the class) I was pretty aggressive in my stretching, like a lot of the photos show. This type of stretching results in a find-tasting mozzarella cheese, but it’s harder, kind of like the type of cheese you’d use for pizza. I had read on the internet that if you wanted a softer cheese you should stretch very gently and only until the cheese got shiny in order to keep as much of the cream in it as possible.
As you can see in the 2nd photo above, my cheese had already turned pretty shiny just working it in the colander with a spoon, so only needed a few stretches to give it the right consistency. I stretched for probably less than a minute and because it was so shiny and looked done I (uncharacteristically) showed great restraint, folded over the cheese one final time, tucked the ends underneath in the center and pushed the ball up into a mushroom shape. Then, I plopped it into the cold salted water.
Later that night I pulled it out and sliced it.
It was absolutely PERFECT! Just the right consistency and taste! I couldn’t believe it. So, to get that soft new fresh mozzarella taste be very, very gentle and don’t stretch for too long.