Cheesemaking part 2: Mozzarella March 6, 2010Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese.
Bolstered by my success in making the goat’s milk cheese, I decided to try my hand at making mozzarella. After all, Nero Wolfe rarely only eats one cheese, and often has 2 or 3 different cheeses on a platter at once! I read the recipe for mozzarella cheese here. The recipe there is for 1 gallon of milk, which I downsized to about 1/3 of the original recipe, for 1 litre of milk. It seemed fairly straightforward – curdle the milk, add rennet, drain, knead and then ta-daa – cheese! Well it didn’t quite work out as smoothly like that, but it did work out in the end.
A note about rennet
Traditionally, rennet is made from enzymes found in a cow’s stomach, and is a key ingredient in many cheeses, including mozzarella. These days, a synthetic rennet enzyme is also available (generally sold as ‘vegetarian rennet’), but both act in the same way – as a coagulant for the milk, allowing firming and hardening of the curds to occur. Regardless of if it’s natural or synthetic rennet, it must be live enzyme for it to be effective, and this means that most places will not stock it. My quick phoning around specialty food stores in Melbourne (Essential Ingredient, Simon Johnson, etc) revealed that none of them stocked rennet, or knew where I could get some. After doing a bit of searching online, I found Cheeselinks, which sells all kinds of cheese making products online – and luckily for me, is located near Geelong (Victoria), meaning it’s not a long shipping time to me in Melbourne. I have put in an order for some rennet and it should be in the mail, but in the meantime I was determined to make mozzarella.
In my online search to find rennet, I had read that junket could be used as a substitute to rennet since its primary ingredient is rennet. For those who don’t know what junket is (I didn’t before I started looking!), it is/was used to make puddings and desserts, as it quickly thickens milk with no refrigeration needed. Although the internet told me that junket was hard to find in Melbourne, I discovered that my local Coles supermarket stocks it! They are in little packets of 12 tablets, in the same area as the instant puddings and jelly. I decided to use the junket and see if it was indeed possible to make mozzarella with it.
Back to the recipe
First of all, I wasn’t sure which milk to use. In the end, I used an unhomogenised organic milk again found in my local supermarket.
I don’t know whether the unhomogenised milk was necessary (other posts I’ve read have stated that you can use homogenised milk with no problems) but you do want to make sure it’s pasteurised, not ultra-pasteurised…. I tried to use ultra-pasteurised milk the first time because that’s what I had in the house, and this is what happens if you try and use ultra-pasteurised milk:
You might be looking at that photo thinking “well there’s not a lot to see here” – and you’d be right. This is *meant* to be curdled, coagulated milk, with the curds and the whey neatly separated. Instead, it’s….weird not-really-separated milk. I started again with the milk in the carton pictured above.
To prepare making the mozzarella, I started with adding a small amount of citric acid (1/2 teaspoon diluted in 1/3 cup of water for 1 litre of milk) while the milk was still cold, and then slowly heating the milk to 90°F (32°C). The recipe next instructed to add 1/4 teaspoon of rennet diluted in 1/4 cup of water. I used 2 tablets of junket, which I crushed up with some water before pouring it in. I then took it off the heat, and left it for 5 minutes to allow the curds to coagulate.
It (mostly) worked! While my curds didn’t look as set as the ones in the picture, I could see the whey clearly separated from the curds, and when I pulled on the edge of the curds, they came apart from the pan while staying together. I cut the curds up into pieces and began reheating back up to 105°F (41.5°C).
It didn’t take long to reach the right temperature, and then I once again took it off the heat and stirred it slowly for a few minutes. I used a soup ladle to transfer the curds to a colander, to help the whey drain further.
I pressed the curds to drain the why further, and transferred them to a bowl. Then I forgot that I was making 1/3 of the recipe I was following, and dutifully microwaved my curds for 1 minute as per the recipe. This was the result:
Yeah….that didn’t look right. This is what happens when you overheat milk curds! If you’re keeping count, I was now up to version 3 of this cheese! However, I persisted, remade the next batch of milk, added the junket, drained the curds, and this time only heated it in 10 second bursts in the microwave, until the cheese was 135°F (57°C). Then it was time to knead!
When I started to knead the cheese, it was quite “grainy” and I could feel the texture as I kneaded. I kept kneading, microwaving the cheese when it got cooler. I’m not sure if it was because my curds didn’t coagulate as much as the one in the recipe, or because of something else – or if it’s meant to happen – but the cheese continued to leave a milky residue as I kneaded. Here’s a pic of a half-kneaded cheese:
After I’d kneaded it for a while (10 minutes at the most), I started testing it to see how much it would stretch. At first it continued to break instead of stretching, but after a bit of time, it began to stretch…and stretch….
I kneaded it for a bit longer and then shaped it into a ball. I dunked the ball into cold water, which set the cheese. Here’s a picture of the end result:
Again if you’re interested in yield, I got about 90 grams of cheese from 1 litre of milk. As for the taste: it tasted like mozzarella! It was creamy and smooth, not sharp at all, and it melted well. I am intending to make this again once my rennet arrives, as hopefully this will make the process a bit easier. As with the goat’s milk cheese, the main problem is that I need more of it!
Cheesemaking is not mentioned in the Nero Wolfe books as something that Fritz does often, although he does help source appropriate cheeses for Wolfe and supervises the production of other cheeses. However I do tend to think that these kind of cheeses (mozzarella and goat’s milk soft cheese) are something Fritz may well make regularly – if I can do it, there’s no reason he couldn’t, and probably with a great more skill than I have. I like the idea of Fritz making cheese in the Brownstone, with Wolfe looking over his shoulder and telling him to knead it more, or add some more flavourings!