Thursday, May 24, 2012

Holy Cow!!! Homemade Mozzarella

This was my second time making cheese. The first time, I used commercially produced pasteurized and homogenized milk. It was a collossal disaster and I nearly swore it off for life. I read online somewhere that using non-homogenized milk was much easier. You can get pasteurized non-homogenized milk at your local food co-op or hippie organic grocery store. You wil pay a ton for it!!! I however have the luxury of working in Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) country a couple of times a week and have access to plenty of farms selling 'raw' milk. In case you didn't know, raw milk is basically milk straight from the cow, full fat and as fresh as it gets. And... the best part it is that a gallon of this Amish raw milk is that it is cheaper ($3.75/gal) than a gallon of regular milk at the grocery store. It is also great because you can basically touch the cows that the milk came from and see how they are being treated (for those of you that are into that kind of thing). This post is going to review the mozzarella process and the dish I made with it. Next I'll go over the ricotta process and that dish. Anyway... On to the cheese making!!

The first thing you will need to do is separate the cream that has floated to the top of the container from the milk. This can be a bit touchy if you don't have a siphon or a turkey baster. As we did not use our siphon and did not have a turkey baster, we ended up with a bit of a mess on our hands. I was mildly losing it and the Happy Husband was busy trying to calm me down and get the mess cleaned up. This photo was taken post mess and it was too hectic to take one during the process. Think crack in the bottom of a really full bucket spraying everywhere but in the pot. Fun... really.

The other two ingredients that you will need are citric acid and rennet. You can find citric acid in any grocery store that has a canning department or online. The rennet was a little harder to come by. Its definetly available online and comes in either tablet (animal based) or liquid (vegetable based) form. Its not cheap but a whole gallon of milk takes only a quarter teaspoon of the stuff. I managed to score the liquid version at the hippie co-op grocery store in the nearby college town. A digital thermometer will also be tremendously helpful here but you can use a traditional candy thermometer if you are really going to babysit the stuff. The first thing you will need to do is dissolve the citric acid and rennet in cold filtered water. Dissolve/dilute 1/4 tsp rennet in a 1/4 cup cold filtered water and dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid in 1 cup of the cold filtered water.

Next you will need to heat your milk to 85 degrees F. This will take a while if you have just taken it out of the fridge, so it is the perfect time to set up your straining device. Stick a colander over a large bowl and line it with cheesecloth. You will probably need a second bowl if yours isn't super deep, I did. Whatever you do, DO NOT THROW OUT THE WHEY. The whey is the yellowish liquid that is left after the curds strain out. Once your milk makes it up to 85 degrees, dump in the citric acid mixture and give it a swirl with a slotted spoon.

It will start to look a little strange and curdle but nothing exciting is happening yet. Next, continue to slowly heat to 100 degrees F. This is when you stir in the rennet mixture. This is where I varied a bit from the recipe... I was so busy trying to take pictures that I wasn't paying attention to the next step (it didn't seem to make a huge difference). Let the milk/curds continue to heat to around 105 degrees (mine got up to 130), then turn off the heat and let the mixture sit with the lid on for the next 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the time is up take a sharp knife and cut the curds into cubes. Use a slotted spoon to move the cubes into the cheesecloth lined strainer. The curds will take a while to drain and can be helped along by moving them around in the cloth. You need to let them drain pretty much all the way until they stop dripping.

While the curds are draining fill pot with water and salt it heavily. You want this water to be about as salty as the ocean. Bring the water up to a boil and watch the temp and you will be using it once it gets down to about 180 degrees. The other thing that you need to be doing while the water is heating is breaking up the drained curds into one inch even pieces.

I kind of slacked on the next pictures because I had rubber gloves on to protect my hands from teh 180 degree water. Basically, you need to dunk the curds (I did two batches) in the hot water until they get melty. Stretch the curds once they come together until they become shiny and then form a ball. I was able to get a little over a half pound out of this batch.

So now you have these two little pillows of mozzarella goodness. What to do with them?? I'll tell you, make Caprese (ka-pray-say) Salad. I saved the larger one for later but I used the smaller one to make this beautiful dish.

This little beauty may have just been a side dish that I served with grilled mahi mahi steaks but in my opinion they were the star of the evening. I split the mozzarella into two servings of three slices each (1.8 oz total), one for me and one for the Happy Husband. The tomatoes, unfortunately, are not from our garden. They are from the grocery store and came in a gourmet medley box that was the same price per pound as the boring old grape variety. Each of those tomatoes were slightly larger than a golf ball. The basil is sliced in what is called a chiffonade. To get this decorative look, you just need to stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar. Slice the across the cigar and you will get pretty little ribbons of your leafy herb or greens. Oh and that's right... the basil is from OUR garden.

Shamless home grown herb photo :)
Soon enough I will be able to say that the three main ingredients in Caprese Salad were hand made and grown from seed at my house. That's so cool to know exactly where your food is coming from. Last but not least, dress the salad with salt, pepper and a bit of good olive oil. This is a truly yummy bite of the summer veggies to come :)

The salad is about 200 calories. 120 from the mozzarella and 60 from the oil.

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