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Water Cooler: The magic of homemade mozzarella

UPDATED: Thu., April 1, 2021

Fresh mozzarella is simple to make and tastes delicious.  (Pixabay)
Fresh mozzarella is simple to make and tastes delicious. (Pixabay)

Making cheese from scratch might seem over the top, and, for the most part, that’s probably true. The exception is homemade mozzarella.

Mozzarella is the epitome of fresh cheese and one of the easiest to make. Of course, it is important to recognize that even homemade mozzarella is no match for what is made by expert Italian cheesemakers.

This is for a few reasons, but the main one is traditional Italian mozzarella is made specifically from the milk of the Italian buffalo. Buffalo milk has more protein, fat and lactose than cow milk and results in a stark white mozzarella, with succulent texture and robust flavor. Cow milk works just fine, but it results in a slightly yellow cheese with more springy texture and mild flavor.

In general, any whole, 2% or skim cow milk will do, as well as goat milk. Fresh and high quality milk provides the best results. Raw or pasteurized milk both work well, but you cannot use milk that is ultra high temperature pasteurized. This particular process leaves the milk protein unable to set into curds.

These details are important, but don’t let them intimidate you. Making mozzarella is a simple process, and even if your cheese doesn’t rival the professionals, it will still be delicious.

To make about 1 pound of mozzarella, you will need:

1 gallon of milk

1 ½ teaspoons citric acid

One-half teaspoon liquid rennet

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Stir the citric acid into 1 cup of water until dissolved. The citric acid helps coagulate the milk. Mix the rennet into a ½ cup of water. The rennet is essential for helping the protein set to form the curds.

Pour the milk into a large pot with enough room to stir. Stir the citric acid-water mixture into the cold milk, and stir vigorously until well-incorporated. Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the milk from the heat. Pour in the rennet-water mixture while stirring, and continue to stir gently for 30 seconds. Cover and leave undisturbed for five minutes. A solid curd should form. You should be able to tilt the pot and see a distinct separation of the solid curd and the liquid whey. If it still seems fragile or liquidy, let sit for a few more minutes.

Use a long knife to gently cut the curd in a gridlike pattern of even pieces, ensuring the knife is reaching the bottom of the pan. Return the pot to the stove on medium-heat and heat until 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir very gently as to not break up the curd pieces. Remove from the heat and let sit another 5 minutes.

Remove the curds with a slotted spoon to separate them from the whey. Gently squeeze to remove excess whey, but the curd should still be very saturated. Heat the whey to 180 degrees, either in the same pot or a smaller pot. You just need enough whey to completely cover the curd.

Season the whey with the kosher salt, then pour over the curd. Let this sit for about 20 seconds. This is to warm the curd and make it pliable for the final step – stretching. Pick up the curd and let gravity stretch it. Fold it into itself and repeat for about four to six folds, until the curd becomes a smooth mass. This is similar to working with a very hydrated dough.

To shape the curd, squeeze it through your thumb and index finger to form a ball, then pinch off. Cover the balls in room temperature whey and let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Wrap in plastic film to store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or rachelb@spokesman.com

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