Fresh mozzarella, the mild, spongy cheese that forms the base of a delicious Caprese salad, is often sold in stores in plastic wrapped balls or logs. Believe it or not, you can easy make fresh mozzarella with just a few essential ingredients and tools in your own kitchen.
First off, you’ll need to have access to ingredients that are probably not hanging out in your cabinet: rennet tablets and citric acid. The rennet coagulates the milk into a solid and the citric acid will give the cheese its springy texture. While some grocery stores might carry rennet in the baking aisle or near the pudding mixes, you will most likely have to seek it out at a health food store, like Whole Foods, or a farm supply store, such as Rural King. Or, if you have access to Amish or Mennonite stores, you might try them. You can find citric acid at a health food store or pharmacy.
Once you’ve obtained your rennet and citric acid, you will also need the following:
-An 8-quart non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enameled)
-A thermometer (a home digital thermometer will work)
-A large mesh strainer
-Four glass bowls (large, medium and two small)
-Gallon of non-homogenized milk (try the organic section)
-Bottled spring or distilled water (the chlorine in tap water will mess things up)
1. Pour your milk into the pot, and let it sit until it is at room temperature, or at least 50 degrees F.
2. Stir one teaspoon citric acid into ¼ cup bottled water. Crush one rennet tablet and let it dissolve a separate ¼ cup of water, and set it aside.
3. Pour the mostly dissolved citric acid into your milk and stir slowly for 60 seconds. Then add an additional teaspoon of straight citric acid to the pot and continue stirring slowly for another minute.
4. Place your pot on the stovetop and set the range on very low and stir occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes. Your goal is to bring the milk to about 88 to 90 degrees F, then turn off the heat.
5. Stir in your dissolved rennet for 20 seconds, then cover the pot and leave it alone for 20 to 30 minutes.
6. Check the consistency by poking your finger in to the mixture. If milk has solidified to a soft gelatin consistency that separates from the liquid whey, you have what’s called a “clean break,” and are ready to go to the next step.
7. Time to cut the cheese curds! Using a long, sharp knife, slice into the curd to cut it into 1/2-inch slabs. Then, slice the slabs crossways to form cubes. Finally, cut slices at an angle to divide each cube into triangular shapes. This slicing and dicing will allow the liquid whey to escape.
8. Let it sit 5 to ten minutes.
9. Turn on very low heat again to bring the curds up to 108 degrees F, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. The curds will shrink and sink.
10. Turn off the heat and stir occasionally for the next 20 minutes.
11. Pour the curds into a mesh strainer over a large bowl, and let it drain until all the whey drains out, for about 15 minutes.
12. Pour the drained curds into a medium glass bowl and knead the curds into smaller pieces briefly.
13. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat for 10 to 15 seconds at a time, checking on the curds in between cycles to see if the curds have separated from the whey again. This step should require two or three cycles.
14. When the whey separates, gently squeeze the curds to one side of the bowl and drain off the excess liquid.
15. Repeat the microwave process until more whey separates. Drain this off carefully as well. Form the curds into a rough ball as you squeeze gently.
16. Microwave for another 15 seconds, and add a teaspoon or two of salt to taste. If the cheese is warm enough (about 155 degrees F), it should become elastic. If it doesn’t stretch when you pull up on some, nuke it another 10 seconds or so.
17. Knead the cheese a couple times and continue to stretch it between your hands to work it into a doughy, stretchy consistency.
18. When the cheese is smooth and shiny, form it into a ball. If it breaks apart during this step, reheat it for another few seconds and try again.
19. Plunge your ball into cold water to help it keep its shape.
20. Enjoy your cheese! If there is any left, wrap tightly in plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.