The past couple of days it has rained like nobody’s business here at Our Maryland Farmhouse. The driveway has become a moat and the dehumidifier in the basement called for backup. It was cold, dark, and depressing outside- the perfect weather to stay at home on a Friday night with a pizza, some adultish beverages and a movie. Katie had just started whipping up a batch of her awesome pizza crust when she looked at me and nearly cried, “We don’t have any cheeeeese!”
Well, this is the farm, and while we didn’t have any cheese, we did have a gallon of good Amish milk in the General Electric. So I decided to whip up a batch of mozzarella. “But, Mike, that’s not possible!”, you might well exclaim. “Cheese takes a long time to make, and then you have to age it!” Well, sure if you’re going for a 3 year Cheddar or a smoked Brie, yeah, you’d be right. But anyone can whip up a slab of good, honest, humble mozzarella in the same amount of time it takes for pizza dough to rise.
First, you need good milk. It doesn’t necessarily have to be raw, organic, pasture-raised, fair trade milk milked by a left-handed Shaman during a waxing moon, but it definitely cannot be ultra pasteurized. Ultra, or high temperature, pasteurization, kills off the bacteria the cheese needs to form. “Ick, Mike…bacteria?” Yup. Bacteria. You need ’em. At least if you want to make cheese (or beer, or other really great things…but I’m getting off topic here).
So, you’ve got your low-temperature pasteurized or raw milk. You’ll need about a gallon to get a pound of cheese. Scale up or down depending on how much cheese you want. You’ll also need:
- 1-1/2 tsp citric acid
- 1/4 tsp rennet
- bottled water (non-chlorinated)
We keep rennet and powdered citric acid in the fridge just for cheese making. You can order them online these days. Dilute the citric acid in 1/4c of the bottled water. Dilute the rennet in 1/8c of the water. Heat the milk to about 55 degrees F (yup, you’ll need a-one a dem fancy-pants cooking thermometers for this- you’re doing Chemistry!) while stirring in the citric acid/ water solution. Continue heating to about 90 F, then remove from heat and stir in the rennet solution. Stir thoroughly, cover, and let sit for about 5 minutes.
At this point the pot will be full of curds and whey, just like Little Miss Muffet on her tuffet. Break up the curd (the hard, thick stuff) while stirring it in the whey (the watery stuff) and heat to about 110 F. Now, dump the mess into a collander, but put another pot under the collander to collect the whey. Put that whey back on the stove, mix in 1/4c of salt and bring up to about 180F. Take the curds in your (clean) hands and clump them into a ball (or two, or three…depending on how much milk you used). Find a spoon and dunk the wads of curds into the hot whey until they get nice and slimy and shiny.
Then scoop it out and press it with a spoon (it’ll be HOT!) to squeeze out more whey (that you can then dump back into the pot). Repeat until you’ve gotten out as much of the whey as practical. You should end up with a pot full of salty whey and a glob of something that actually looks like cheese.
Hey guess what? You made mozzarella there, mister! Now roll it up and slice it thin and have your loving spouse decorate the top of her basil-and-kale pesto, zucchini, and tomato pizza pie.
Bake until the “Motz” gets a nice dark brown crustiness on top of it, remove from the oven, let sit for about 10 or 15 minutes (so the pizza stone- you did use a good stone, didn’t you?- can fully cook the crust and so the top can cool a bit and not burn your mouth), sprinkle with your favorite toppings (I love pickled hot cherry peppers and Parmigiana cheese), and consume in conjunction with your movie of choice.
Next, put on the Friday night Big Band show on 88.1FM and type a blog post while you listen to some of the best music ever made. Now _that’s_ a Friday night.