I’ve wanted to learn how to make cheese for some time, so I picked up a mozzarella cheese making kit on Amazon. Originally it was my intention to try this all on my own, but since rennet turned out to be impossible to find easily in local shops (probably there are specialty shops that have it), I figured I’d go ahead and use the kit. Best to have something with instructions to follow as I go along, anyway.
The kit comes with butter muslin (cheesecloth, which I didn’t use), citric acid (I already had my own), cheese salt (same as pickling salt), a thermometer, and of course instructions. I picked up some whole milk, which was pasteurized and homogenized. Ultra-pasteurized milk is useless for making cheese, which rules out most organics; I read that this is because organic milk is a niche product and has wider distribution, which means longer shelf life is required. Homogenized isn’t ideal, but finding non-homogenized milk is darn difficult. Because I had already done some reading on the subject, I discovered that home cheese makers swear by calcium chloride as an additive, which helps atone for some of homogenization’s sins.
So I started with 1 cup of bottled water (chlorine is bad for this), 1½ tsp. of citric acid, and ¼ tsp. of calcium chloride. I bought a one-pound tub I think will last me forever; buy any brand you like as long as it’s food grade. This solution went right into my 5 qt. pot. It’s the biggest pot I have, and was just enough for this purpose. Then I added the entire gallon of milk, stirred, and put it on medium-high heat.
The milk has to be stirred while you bring it up to temperature. I didn’t stir constantly, just frequently, and just enough to keep the milk at the bottom of the pot from burning. This goes on until you reach 90°F. Then the milk has to be taken off the burner. You add ¼ cup of water into which ¼ of a rennet tablet has been dissolved. Stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds, then cover it and leave it for 5 minutes. After that, cut the curds with a long knife, return the pot to the heat, and bring it up to 105° while stirring gently. Then take it off the heat and keep stirring like that for about 5 minutes.
From that point, rather than using cheesecloth I used a pasta scoop. The one I got from Pampered Chef is perfect for this; the slots are thin enough you won’t lose many curds. My curds looked kind of small, but I got pretty much all of them out of the whey with this method. I put them into a glass batter bowl (also Pampered Chef—I use that thing all the time), poured off more whey, and put the curds into the microwave for a minute.
At this point you can take out the cheese, roll or push it out a bit, add salt, then fold it in. More liquid is released here, so you lose that, return the curds to the microwave for 30 seconds, and see if it’s warm enough to stretch out the cheese properly without breaking. Pour off more whey if any more comes out. I had to do two 30-second spurts, and probably should have done a little more—my microwave is old. The goal from here out is that you stretch out the cheese, then fold it over and over again. This makes the stringy texture. This should go on until the cheese is shiny, though mine never got as shiny as I thought it should have—another sign it wasn’t quite warm enough. No matter, though; it was a forgiving process.
Then you put the cheese in a cold water bath for 5 minutes, and ice water for 15 minutes. That’s per the kit; it’s supposed to help keep the cheese from getting a grainy texture. I’m not sure if the cheese should be wrapped in plastic before this point, though I didn’t wrap mine. I took off part of the cheese to form about 15-20 little balls (though they didn’t ball up very nicely, so they’re more like chunks) before this, and cooled them separately.
When all was finished, I put the bulk of the cheese, a nice big mound of it, into plastic wrap. The kit says it’ll keep for about two weeks that way, which is pretty impressive. The little balls I saved for something special.
I was super happy with the texture of the resulting cheese, and with the flavor, with one exception: I wanted it to be saltier. The instructions said I should use 1 tsp. of cheese salt. I’ve seen online that people use as much as 2 tsp., and I almost did so, but I wanted to stick to the kit for the most part. I should have tripled the salt. I prefer a saltier cheese.
Now for the rest of the cheese, I made a marinade. I started with some mild olive oil. To that I added 1 tsp. each of basil, parsley, and oregano, along with about 2-3 cloves of freshly chopped garlic. Most store-bought marinated mozzarella uses red pepper flake, but I’m not a fan. I suspect the same amount of herbs and garlic would be enough for more of the cheese, but for a full batch done this way I’d probably double up. I let the balls of mozzarella sit in this marinade in the fridge for several hours before trying one. The result was beautiful, with a nice soft texture. I can’t even imagine how much better these are going to be tomorrow.
As for the calcium chloride, I can’t tell if that contributed to helping firm up my curd. I say it can’t hurt, so go ahead and try it.
This experiment was such a terrific success that I’m thinking of making a batch of the marinated cheese for Thanksgiving. The time investment involved is relatively small; the whole process took under an hour. I could easily make up a batch next weekend and let it marinate in the fridge for four days.
Drop me a comment if you’ve ever made cheese or if you’re inspired to try this yourself. I’d love to know what other people like to use for marinades.