In all my cooking life, never such a triumph.
About 6 months ago, I ordered the mozzarella "kit" -- some rennet, citric acid, and a dairy thermometer -- from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I learned of this outfit, as of so many things fascinating and troublesome, from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
I put the "kit" (in quotes because it's not much of a kit) in the pantry. Time passed. Making mozzarella seemed overambitious, tiring, impossible.
Yesterday, looking for an after-school project that could be executed with an 8-year-old fan of How It's Made, I thought, whatever, mozzarella.
I wanted to do one of those excellent Pioneer Woman photo essays, but didn't quite pull it off.
There are warnings about trying to use ultra-pasteurized milk to make cheese, so you start with a gallon of fancy milk:
I understand the irony of calling milk that has been minimally processed "fancy." I guess a better description would be "real." Or "real and expensive," because both are true and relevant. You can also use powdered milk, which I am going to try, just to see how cheaply this can be done.
You pour your "real and expensive" milk into a stainless steel pot, add a spoonful of citric acid. Heat to 90 degrees. Take off heat, stir in a tiny quantity of crushed rennet. Let rest five minutes and when you look again, you will have a large pot of custard, which you cut (you don't take it out of the pot) into large, tofu-like squares.
Heat and slowly stir, stir, stir. The large, soft, blobby curds will shrink into tight, firm little clusters.
When you drain off the whey, you will be left with a heavy, clotted mass.
Submerge this mass in a hot water bath for a minute or two. Really hot, so wear rubber gloves as you massage the cheese.
When you pull the cheese out of the bath, it will be bouncy and elastic.
You are now supposed to stretch it like taffy until it becomes shiny and supple,
Salt is meant to be incorporated at this stage, which I didn't quite figure out how to do correctly. But I did it, sort of, incorrectly. You then shape the cheese as you wish, and you are done. See mound of cheese at top of page.
This whole business took us about 45 minutes. I did not weigh the finished cheese, so I don't knowhow much we actually got, and how all this compares to the price of fresh mozzarella from the supermarket. I will calculate with my next batch.
And there will be a next batch. This cheese was one of the most incredible things I've ever made. Not just ever made, ever tasted. I happened to have a tub of Whole Foods mozzarella that I sampled side by side with homemade. I used to love this WF cheese, but by comparison with ours, this was mushy and flabby and stale. I wanted to throw it to the chickens. I have been ruined for storebought mozzarella, and you could be too. Proceed with caution.
So many more thoughts on this, but I have to go fill lunch boxes.