My first attempt at mozzarella ended up in the tastiest cottage cheese you ever tasted. It was marvelous in our lasagna that evening, but it wasn't…. well… mozzarella.
I did a little troubleshooting and after that, things went much smoother and mozzarella became a staple in our repertoire. Of all the homemade, real food we make, this is certainly newer to us, but seeing as we all LOOOOOOVE cheese, it's a lovely necessity.
2 gallons whole milk, preferably raw
2 teaspoons citric acid, divided – 1 tsp dissolved in 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp sprinkled directly into warm milk
1 cup cultured buttermilk (optional – used for flavor)
30 drops rennet mixed with 1/4 cup water (approx. 3/8 tsp)
4-8 litres (1-2 gallons) fresh water
½ – 1 cup sea salt (maintain the ratio of 1/4 cup salt : 2 litres water)
Heat milk and buttermilk in a large heavy-bottomed pot to 50°-55°F. Pour dissolved citric acid into milk and stir for one minute, then sprinkle remaining citric acid granules into the milk and stir for another minute. Heat mixture to 88°F over low heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat at 88° to ensure the mixture does not overheat.
Stir rennet into cold water, then pour into milk mixture, stirring for 15-20 seconds. Let stand, covered and undisturbed, until it solidifies and is able to be sliced, at least 15 to 30 minutes. Time is not important here – getting a defined, solidified “clean break” is.
Using a long knife, make cuts across stiffened milk mixture at ½-inch intervals, reaching down to bottom of pot, then make similar cuts to form a crosshatch pattern (small squares) on top. Let stand, undisturbed, 5-10 minutes.
Heat the curds to 108°F, stirring occasionally to keep them separated. They will shrink slightly as they are heated. Turn off the heat and allow it to sit for about half-an-hour, again stirring occasionally. At the end of this time, the curd and the whey should have separated.
Line a large sieve with cheesecloth and set over a bowl. Using a ladle or slotted spoon, transfer curds to center of cheesecloth. Gather sides up over curds to form a sack and tie sides together with a long piece of string as close to curds as possible but without squeezing curds. Suspend sack and let cheese hang to drain whey. Keep the sack several inches above the bowl so that the sack will not come in contact with any of the whey as it accumulates. Let hang until no more whey drips out (and as long is convenient for you) – anywhere from one hour to overnight. Save the whey to make ricotta.
Remove cheese from cloth and break it up into small clumps with your hands. Prepare a large bowl of cold, salted water to receive the finished mozzarella balls. (Prepare salt solution by dissolving salt in a small amount of boiling water and adding it to an ice bath.)
Heat a large pot of heavily salted water to 170°F and remove from the heat. Transfer the curds into the pot. Let stand until curds start to meld together, about 2 minutes. Working in three batches, gather curds together with a slotted spoon and remove to a bowl. Using your hands or two wooden spoons, gently stretch and fold the curds, squeezing out the whey. If it becomes difficult to stretch and breaks easily, dip it into the hot water for a few seconds or hold it under the hottest running tap water you can stand to make it warm and pliable again (3 to 5 times). Continue folding and stretching until curds become smooth, shiny, and elastic. When you can stretch it like taffy, it is done.
Form into a ball by tucking outside into center, then pinch edges together. Place mozzarella in cool water to cool completely before eating. Make remaining cheese in same manner, reusing hot 170°F salted water for subsequent batches.
Store finished mozzarella in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
So, it turns out in my first batch the problem was with the store-bought milk. If the milk was pasteurized at too high a temperature, the curds won't meld together when it's time to stretch them. If this happens to you, try the recipe again with a different brand of milk, or even better, switch to raw milk. Raw mozzarella has the reputation of being the least problematic, not to mention the most delicious!
For other mozzarella troubleshooting, visit The Cheese Forum, Dr. Fankhauser's cheese pages including Italian Mozzarella and “Problems Getting a Clean Break,” and the New England Cheesemaking's “All About Milk” page.
The Process in Photos