On Monday night, I put on my gameface and set about the task of making mozzarella.
This longstanding goal of mine is something that many (most) have questioned. Why would I want to make mozzarella when: 1. It's easier to buy, and 2. It'll probably taste better from the store, anyway?
It's not really something I can explain. Why do I persist in trying to make my own hard cider, bake my own bread, can my own apple butter? They're time drains, to be sure, and what with all the ingredients that I waste on messing the recipes up or trying to follow bad advice I've found on a less than reputable Web site, I probably spend just as much money as I would have if I'd just bought whatever it was in the first place.
I do it because I like making things — the more complicated, the better — and I like feeling self-sufficient. I like knowing that if I were trapped in my house all winter with nothing but the most basic fruits and vegetables, baking supplies and dairy products (plus rennet and citric acid, of course), I would be able to feed myself pretty well.
But mostly I just like making things.
This mozzarella attempt wasn't my first, and it wouldn't be my last. My first was in California last spring, where I was staying with my aunt and uncle and reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Aunt Margie and I went on a rennet hunt all over the Palo Alto area, and even though we eventually found it, we were foiled by an inaccurate thermometer. The rennet will only work if the milk is between 88 and 90 degrees, so any inaccuracy could very well kill the whole project. Which is what it did.
My next three attempts yielded something like cottage cheese, something like ricotta, and something that wasn't quite like anything I'd ever eaten but tasted pretty good on toast.
On Monday, the curds never got hard enough to scoop out of the pot, no matter how long I waited for them to harden.
So I went home after work on Tuesday bound and determined to make that mozzarella. I wasn't going to take no for an answer. I decided to use the 30 minute mozzarella recipe from Barbara Kingsolver's book — this one, people said on the cheesemaking message boards, was foolproof.
I measured out half of the milk and smacked the gallon jug back down on the counter, perhaps trying to stun it into subservience.
And missed. A quarter of a gallon of milk had gone sliding across the floor before I could grab the jug and set it right side up. This was not a good start.
But I measured the rest of the milk, poured in the citric acid and set my thermometer on the edge of the pot.
Then, after the milk was a bit curdled from the acid and it had (slowly) heated to about 88 degrees, I stirred in the rennet and watched the thermometer climb a little bit more as the milk sat. And then, in an instant, the curds had pulled away from the side of the pot, leaving a crescent of pale whey shining at me. I'd never seen this part of the process before.
I cut the curds and scooped them off, draining them a bit in an old t-shirt (it was clean…) and dumped them into a bowl.
Then I microwaved, drained off the whey, microwaved, drained, and scalded my fingers trying to knead it. But all of a sudden the curds were smoother, and the next time I popped them in the microwave they stretched.
From there, it was shaping the mixture into two balls and cooling it in ice water, all except for the couple of pieces that I melted on a piece of toast.
Yum. Pizza, anyone?
The recipe I used came from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but you can also find the recipe, complete with pictures, here. Stay tuned for another cheesemaking post next week!
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.