mozzarella

For a while now I’ve been perfecting the art of making mozzarella. It’s a fabulous party trick, that stretchy stuff, so I often make it with friends visiting the cottage. My dear Catherine, an artist and a fine brewer (with whom I have exciting brewery plans…) made mozzarella with me this weekend and we took some pictures of the happy event. Here’s an illustrated guide, based on a brilliant recipe I’ve had great success with.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the ingredients: 8 pints of fresh whole milk (we use demeter-approved organic raw whole milk from our beloved local farm), a bit of rennet, citric acid, and sea salt.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the tools, sterilised, and keep them close to hand; make sure your sink is clean and has a good stopper. A sieve or a colander, a slotted spoon, a 2 gallon pot, measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, a large heatproof bowl or pot, a long sharp knife and a cooking thermometer. Also, rubber gloves if you’re a sensitive creature and for children who want to pull the mozzarella. Ready?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure a quarter teaspoon rennet (or a quarter tablet) into a quarter cup cool water, stir it well and set it aside.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into half a cup cool water, and stir til dissolved.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Place the large pot into the sink, and tip the citric acid solution into the pot.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour in all the milk and immediately stir;

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stir it very well. Now the milk is acidified and we’re on our way.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stand the thermometer in the milk, and fill the sink, around the pot (no! not in it!) with hot water, just from the tap should do. Keep watching the thermometer, it need only go to 90 F/32 C, which isn’t very hot at all. Much like making cream cheese. I generally fill the sink about two thirds of the way up the pot. Reached the right temperature?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now pour in the rennet solution, and stir up and down for 30 seconds. Excellent.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Let the mixture stand for about five minutes. While you’re waiting, get a full kettle of water to the boil, we’re going to need it soon.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Press the top with a flat hand. You should feel soft curds, and along the edges the chartreuse whey should show. If in doubt, give it a couple more minutes. (This didn’t happen for us the first time, as the milk we were using was over-pasteurised, no luck.)

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s your knife? Cut the curds right to the bottom, into squares of about 1 inch.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Leave it to rest another two or three minutes. Meanwhile, take your water off the boil and let it sit for a bit.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Lay a sieve or colander (I begin with the sieve, as my colander just doesn’t let much whey out) over a large bowl, next to the pot of curds and whey. Take the slotted spoon and begin to gently lift the curds into the colander to drain. Exciting? I shift curds to the colander, now over the pot, when the sieve gets too full, and tip all the whey around it. The colander will be sitting in whey to keeps the curds warm.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

A few pinches of sea salt go in, and get worked through the curds. The more your work them, the dryer the final mozzarella will become.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour most of the kettle-ful of water into a heatproof bowl or pot (I use that same bowl that caught the whey) and adjust the temperature to about 175 F/79.5C. Reserve some water in case you need it.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Use the slotted spoon to lift the curds into the hot water, working in two or three parts if you like.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Move the curds around to help them melt into a ball.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now! Lift it with the slotted spoon (put on your gloves if you need to!) and begin to pull and fold the mozzarella! If the cheese breaks as you pull it, melt it up again in the bowl, adding hot water as needed. I love this part.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Oh! The mozzarella stretched so far, my arms weren’t long enough! It always makes me laugh. Pull it, fold it, immerse it, pull it, til a sheen like good taffy appears.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Then fold it up, done! I keep our mozzarella submerged it in salted whey, chilling in the fridge, until I need it for lasagna or pizza. Soon we’ll eat it sliced with basil and tomato on fresh bread. Heaven! Do let me know if you make your own.

cream cheese

Being rather fond of cream cheese, I thought I’d learn to make it. I object to the expense of cheese; what’s more I find that we can’t tolerate anything but raw milk cheeses unless made from goat or sheep milk. Those are even more dear. So I set about working up my courage. Fortunately, the most complicated part of making cream cheese is getting the bacterial culture. After this a child could make it by themselves, and mine may, as they’re smitten.

I ordered the mesophilic culture for this type of cheese from a shop in England; there are many great cheese-making supply shops online. Then the children and I followed some simple steps. We mixed a pint (about 560 ml) of raw milk with a small cup of raw cream (let’s say 150 ml) and warmed it very slightly, to 32 C. You could just immerse the bowl in hot water. We measured in 1/8 teaspoon of mesophilic culture, covered the bowl and left it for half an hour. While it was sitting, we mixed two drops of rennet with a tablespoon of filtered water, and added it when the time was up, mixing well in. With the bowl covered, we put the whole thing in the airing cupboard, where yogurt and sourdough sponges have spent many a warm and happy night. You just want it to be comfortably, consistently warm, for twelve to sixteen hours or so.

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In the morning I peeked in the cupboard and found that we had cheese! Nearly. There was a lot of whey sitting at the surface, ready to be drained off through cheesecloth, so I poured it in and left it to drain for a few hours.

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Like the yogurt I drain to thicken, about half the original amount of liquid drained out as whey. (I reserve the whey for ricotta and sourdough) Gloriously creamy cheese was left! I paddled it with some sea salt to taste.

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Gorgeous on crisp bread, or sourdough with some pepper, or honey. I’m astonished how easy it was. Even easier than mozzarella.

culturing yogurt

For years I’ve cultured yogurt, trying a variety of recipes and methods, in pursuit of rich, thick, Greek style yogurt. I’ve cultured yogurt in a machine, by the light of an oven, near a radiator, by a wood stove. I’ve tried endless combinations of starters. I’m ecstatic to finally have a method that achieved the thickest, the best, the most gorgeous yogurt.

I took out a pot of yogurt and a couple of pints of raw whole milk to come to room temperature on the counter, and then heated the milk slowly to 110 F. This is very quick, don’t go anywhere. While it was heating I filled a large jar with very hot water, and let it stand, closed. Three or four tablespoons of yogurt went into a cup, and a bit of warm milk ladled in and mixed. Then I poured out the hot water, poured in the milk, stirred in the cup of thinned, warmed yogurt, shut the jar, wrapped it in a towel, and put it somewhere warm. I reckoned that if the sourdough sponge liked the airing cupboard, the yogurt might like it too, so that’s where it spent the night. In the morning it was thick enough to wobble pleasantly. But not thick enough.

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I happen to have a bit of cheesecloth sewn into a bag, so I used it, but you could use layers of cheesecloth in a colander just as well. I hung it up for a couple of hours to allow some of the whey to drain off into a jar.

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When there was roughly half of the amount of liquid drained off the in the form of lovely chartreuse whey, I put the yogurt into its own jar. From two pints of milk and a few tablespoons of yogurt, I got just over a pint of whey and just under a pint of yogurt.

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Gorgeous, thickest, best yogurt. It received the children’s highest rating (something involving many fingers and lots of waving) and disappeared immediately. The whey will be used in place of water in our next sourdough, or to soak oats overnight for porridge. I think we’d better get some milk to start it again. Oh yes, and next time save a ladleful to start the next batch.