When I was interviewing the chef who was our instructor at the cooking course we recently took, I asked a serendipitous question– I asked him what he’s been cooking lately. When he told me he’s been experimenting with cheese, I got very enthusiastic, so he offered to show the class how to make fresh mozzarella.

I love the idea of fresh, chewy mozzarella, but I’m often disappointed. You know what I’m talking about right? Those balls that have the consistency and flavour of wet tissue paper. This homemade mozzarella is nothing like that. It melts beautifully and is slightly chewy, but it has real, lovely, milky taste. I can’t wait to try it again!  I’m having slight word burnout, so I thought I’d give you a series of photos to go with the recipe instead of a lot of description or a story. It’s long, so jump in ahead! It was our first time making cheese, and while the process wasn’t too tough, I’m a little nervous about when we make it on our own. Any experienced mozzarella-makers out there have any tips? Recipe and LOTS of photos after the jump.

Vanity compels me to inform you that most of the hands you see in the following photos aren’t mine or Carlo’s.  Our hands were busy with the camera when these photos were taken!

Fresh Mozzarella

4 litres milk (not ultra-pasteurized, and not homogenized. 2% is good)
1 1/4 cup cool water (chlorine free)
1 1/2 tsp. citric acid (you can get this at health-food stores. It’s a powder)
1/4 rennet tablet (or 1/4 tsp. liquid rennet)– Rennet is available from Danlac in Alberta, or try New England Cheesemaking. They also have great instructions,FAQs, tips and troubleshooting on the latter.
1 tsp. cheese salt (this is non-iodized salt–iodine interferes with the cheesemaking. If you can find salt with no iodine in it, this is an optional ingredient. You could add herbs as well/instead)

large steel bowl
large pot wide enough to comfortably hold your steel bowl (if you can’t get these two items to fit together, see step #4)
slotted spoon (preferably metal)
long knife (or use the handle of a metal spoon, if it’s thin)
microwaveable bowl (you don’t need this if you’re not using a microwave, but that’s the technique we learned, so…)
rubber gloves (optional. I didn’t use them, but the cheese is HOT!)

1. Fill large pot with several inches of water and put it over high heat to boil.
2. Dissolve the rennet into 1/4 cup cool water. Stir and set aside.
3. Mix citric acid into remaining 1 cup of water, and pour citric acid mixture into your bowl. Add the milk, stirring well to combine with citric acid solution.
4. Place the steel bowl over the pot and heat to 90 F, while stirring. (This is essentially creating a double-boiler effect, but if you don’t have a bowl the right size, do it right in the pot. Just be careful and monitor the temperature closely, stirring a lot.

5. When the milk reaches 90 F, remove it from the heat and slowly stir in the rennet solution, using a gentle up and down motion. Do this for about 30 seconds.

6. Cover the milk/rennet solution and don’t disturb it for 10 minutes.
7. Check your curd, stick your hand into it and gently pull up. The curd should split gently, like a soft custard, and you should be able to see a separation between curd and whey (the yellowy liquid that separates). If your curds are too soft and/or your whey too milky, let the curd set for a few more minutes.

8. Cut the curd into cube-like shapes with a knife or the narrow end of a metal spoon. We cut straight in, holding the spoon vertically, first from left to right, then from top to bottom. Then we angled the spoon sideways and cut through the curd horizontally at a couple depths to form cubes.

9. Put the cut curds back on the heat, and slowly and gently move them around while heating them to 105 F.

10. Take curds off the burner and keep stirring them for a few more minutes (longer=firmer cheese). Then pour the curds and whey through a colander to separate them (do this GENTLY, but separate as much whey as possible without pressing the curds a lot). If you want, you can store the cheese in the whey later. To do this, salt the whey well and set it aside with a few ice cubes in it to cool it down.

11. Transfer the curds to a microwaveable bowl, and put them in the microwave (on HI) for one minute. Now is when you’re going to want rubber gloves, if you’re using them.
12. Remove the bowl and drain the whey again, this time gently pulling the curds together into a single piece.

13. Microwave again for 30 seconds. Drain again. Knead the cheese together into a single mass (this is just like kneading bread), then pull it out and try stretching it. If it breaks instead of pulls, it’s not hot enough (it must be 135 F). Microwave for another 30 seconds, if necessary.

14. When the cheese is hot and stretchy, add your salts and work them in. Then begin stretching. Work it until it is smooth and shiny. Don’t go too long or it’ll get too firm.

15. Knead the cheese into a smooth shiny lump. I used the same technique as I do for forming dinner rolls, stretching the dough into a smooth belly on top by pulling it into itself at the bottom. Does that make sense?

16.To cool the cheese, drop it into ice water or the salted whey you set aside earlier. It can be stored in the fridge this way, or wrap it in plastic wrap when it’s cool. It’s ready to eat after it has cooled.