Joy has been a goat lover and cheese lover for 20 years. She enjoys experimenting with making her own cheeses and dairy products.
The Basics, and an Attitude
Good mozzarella cheese is easy to make. It's versatile, and fun. It takes only fresh milk, some common kitchen tools, two special ingredients, a bit of curiosity, and about three hours of time.
Cheese making is a learned skill, and, while not difficult, it does take a certain amount of precision and forethought. A light-hearted attitude is a bonus, as even the most careful treatment sometimes yields a different product than you were after. I like making mozzarella because it is relatively quick, and it is hard to screw up.
What You May Not Have, But Will Need
Mozzarella cheese goes together in three separate stages.
Begin by collecting your supplies.
- Fresh milk (non-pasteurized) - 1 or more gallons
- Rennet (vegetable or animal, liquid or tablet - it doesn't really matter)
- Citric acid, or lemon juice
- Non-iodized salt (iodine tends to turn the cheese green)
- 1 or 2 clean, large tea towels
- A stainless steel or unchipped enamel stock pot (a heavy bottom is a bonus, as it helps prevent scorching)
- A long wooden spoon
- A long knife, such as a chef's knife
- A colander (stainless steel or enamel is better than plastic or wire)
- A large bowl (avoid plastic)
- A dairy thermometer, which means totally accurate (don't use a candy thermometer)
- Measuring spoons and a measuring cup
If you choose to work with more than two gallons of milk at a time, and plan on making cheese often, I also recommend a food-grade five gallon bucket with a lid. It is nice if your collander fits over the rim without falling in.
Make a Lot, or a Little Cheese . . . Your Choice
The Ingredient Amounts for Using 1 Gallon of Milk
Here is the recipe, broken down for using only 1 gallon of milk:
1 gallon part-cream, fresh milk
1 1/4 teaspoons citric acid powder
1/2 teaspoon liquid vegetable rennet (or it's equivalent in other rennet), mixed into 1/4 cup cool drinking water
Stage 1--Adding Ingredients to the Milk
Begin with chilled milk, and skim the cream from off the top. Reserve it for making butter. Unless you have mechanically separated the milk from the cream, there will still be a fair amount left in the milk. This is fine. A little is good, and enhances the texture and flavor of the finished cheese. Too much remaining, however, is a waste of the cream, as most of it runs out in the whey.
Pour the cold, skimmed milk into the stock pot(s), and set it to heat over a low flame. Clip your thermometer over the edge of the stock pot, where you can keep an eye on it. Your first goal is to bring the milk slowly to 88 degrees F.
Stir occasionally, but thoroughly, reaching clear to the bottom of the pot(s).
While the milk is heating, measure out 1 1/4 teaspoons citric acid powder per gallon of milk, and sprinkle over the top. Some people prefer to dissolve the powder in a little cool water, before mixing it in. Stir thoroughly.
Read More From Delishably
I am working with between 8 and 9 gallons of milk here, so I added 6 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid powder per pot.
The purpose of the citric acid is to sour the milk. It is possible to substitute lemon juice (don't use vinegar . . . it doesn't have the right kind of acid), but I find this makes the finished product stringier and a bit harder.
Once the milk reaches 88 degrees, stir 1/2 teaspoon liquid vegetable rennet per gallon of milk (or it's equivalent in other rennet), into 1/4 cup cool drinking water, and add to the milk. Stir thoroughly. You don't need to increase the amount of water if using less than a couple teaspoons of rennet . . . the point is to make it mixable.
Turn the flame off and allow the milk to set for 15 minutes to coagulate.
Curds--Coagulation; Cutting; Resting
After 15 minutes, the milk solids should have come together into a smooth mass of curds. They should be firm enough that when you dip your finger into them, they should break cleanly, and whey should fill the depression.
With the long knife, cut a grid of 1" vertical strips. Cutting the grid allows the heated whey to strengthen and harden the curds. With mozzarella, I usually just cut vertically, but if you wish to be correct, you ought to cut horizontally, too, to form cubes. Some cheeses require this to form proper curds.
Allow the curds to rest for 10 minutes.
Coagulation of Curds
Cutting Curds for "Hardening"
Stage 2--Cooking the Curds
Turn on the lowest flame, and bring the curds slowly to 108 degrees F. This will shrink the curds, hardening them somewhat. Don't stir much at first, and when you do, stir slowly, so as not to break up the curds too much. The idea is just to circulate the heat, and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. If you break the curds into little pieces, it is harder to drain the whey off in the next step, and being broken up too much can prevent some of them coming together and getting their "stretch" during Stage 3.
Keep the curds at 108 for 35 minutes.
The harder the curds become, the more you can stir, but always be gentle.
Set up your colander in a large bowl or over the 5-gallon bucket, and line it with a clean tea towel, if you wish to save all curd particles. If working with a small quantity of curds and whey, lift the pot and pour off the whey. If nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pot, it is not necessary yet to pour the curds clear out. You can leave a bit of whey with them, as you will want some in Stage 3.
If working with a large pot of whey, take any handy, clean container and dip out as much whey as you easily can into the colander. I like to use a Pyrex batter bowl. If you can see the curds in the bottom, leave the rest. If not, pour off the whey until the curds are just visible.
If the whey in the collander stops draining, scrape the bottom of the towel with your fingers to remove the fine curds that clog it, or you can try lifting the towel to a different angle to recirculate the "fines" enough to keep draining. I usually have to change towels if I drain more than 12 gallons of whey.
Curds After Hardening a Bit
A Note About Pouring Off Whey
It is sticky. If you splatter your stove, floor, or cabinets, water probably will not remove all of it. Dish soap helps. Besides being sticky, whey is nutritious . . . but it is not very palatable. You may drink it if you wish, or you can save some and feed it to your pets. Cats, dogs, chickens, goats, and calves usually like it. But be aware that large quantities of it will give them the runs.
Draining Whey; Leftover Grainy Curds
Stage 3--Heat Treating the Curds
Now, you are ready to heat your curds yet further, and make them into stretchy mozzarella cheese. If you have 2 or more pots of curds, put the curds together in the cleanest pot, with whey barely to cover, and turn on the lowest possible flame. A double boiler is even better.
On the chance that your whey has become contaminated . . . say, your two-year-old decided to stick her dirt-laden arm in up to the elbow, or your dog came by and began lapping it out of the bucket . . . don't despair. You can use water for this stretching process. Heat it in another container, and pour it hot (not boiling) over the curds.
The curds should mostly be in a mass by now, or at least in fist-sized chunks.
Aim for a temperature of 140 degrees F. or more. I've seen as high as 155 degrees recommended, though I find that this makes for scorched curds.
You may want to use two spoons for this process . . . one large regular spoon, and one large slotted. I prefer a single spoon . . . the same long wooden one I've used throughout the cheesemaking process. Once the whey begins to heat, turn the curds over on themselves often in a kneading action. They will form into a mass, and begin to melt together. The important thing is to keep them from scorching. With your spoon(s), pull the curds out of the whey, and stretch them like taffy.
Once they get hot enough, the stretch comes quickly. You will see them change from lumpy and almost fibrous, to smooth and stretchy. When they cascade from your spoon in a sheet and begin to look shiny, they are finished.
Beginning to Stretch Curds
When Curds Are Stretchy Enough
Excellent Footage on Handling the Curds Professionally (Stretching)
Have ready whatever containers or sacks in which you intend to package your cheese. If you intend to use freezer bags, label them with a permanent marker now, as you won't be able to once the hot, moist cheese is inside.
Proceed with the cheese:
Pour out as much whey as possible. Be careful of steam burns! . . . and use your spoon, if you don't have tough hands, to lift the mass of very hot cheese around on the inside wall of the stock pot, to drain any trapped whey.
Once you've gotten out all you reasonably can, dump the cheese into the large bowl. Have ready whatever salt you intend to use. I prefer unprocessed sea salt. Sprinkle on some, then use your spoon to knead the cheese . . . sprinkle on more salt . . . knead it in. Do this until you are satisfied with the saltiness of your cheese.
You will have to work quickly, as the cheese stiffens as it cools.
Some people prefer to place the cheese in a brine. If you want to do this, have ready a brine made of 8 oz. salt to 1 quart cold water. Shape the cheese into balls, and place in the brine for 10 to 30 minutes. The longer you leave it in, the saltier it will be. Remove from the brine, pat dry, and store. You can wrap it in plastic wrap, then place the balls in bags. Refrigerate for up to two weeks; freeze for longer storage.
If you choose the sprinkle-and-knead method, two or three generous pinches of salt usually will do it if you intend to use the cheese in main dishes, such as pizza or lasagna. For a snacking cheese, more salt is preferable.
Once the cheese is salted, lift it into a storage bag, or roll handfuls into balls to cool. Since my family and I often use a lot of cheese at once, I prefer to place it in gallon bags, from which we can later cut whatever we need.
Seal the bag, then smooth down the cheese, squishing it out to the corners of the bag.
Note: 5 gallons of milk will yield enough cheese to nicely fill one 1-gallon bag.
Allow the cheese to cool somewhat, then place it on a level, smooth surface in your refrigerator or freezer . . .
. . . and you're done!
Distributing Salt Evenly
For Big Lots of Cheese, to Be Used Quickly!
Packaging Large Amounts
Flattening the Cheese so it Lies Nicely in Refrigerator or Freezer
Balls of Mozzarella
I'm told that the word "mozzarella" means to "to pinch" [off balls of cheese]. Making balls from fistfuls of cheese would be the standard method of preparing the curds for use, and also allows for proper brining.
If you prefer to do this way, simply divide the cheese into lumps which you can use easily, wrap each one in a square of plastic wrap, and store in a bag. I like to divide each batch into balls each big enough for an average meal, be it pizza, a casserole, a salad, or for chopping onto foods at the table.
Balls also take less time to thaw, should you freeze them.
Washing Out Towels
Clean out any curds left in the towel(s), using a knife to gently scrape them clean if necessary. Bundle the towel(s) together so as not to scatter whey or cheese particles, and lay them in a corner of a clean sink.
Immediately wash any pots and utensils . . . if you wait until they have dried at all, you will find it many times harder. Do any scorched spots first, and pay particular attention to rivets and other milk-trapping areas. Dry with a clean towel, if you wish, and set things where they can dry thoroughly before being put away, as any water left in the pots will exacerbate any smells left from the milk. If necessary, fill the pot(s) with bleach water and allow them to soak.
Rinse out your towel(s) under cool running water, rubbing them together systematically between your hands, and either toss them directly in the washer, or hang to dry until you have a suitable load of laundry ready.
Now, you're done.
Tips and Short-Cuts
After several years of making mozzarella as my main, quick cheese, I have developed some short-cuts. You may wish to adopt some of these.
For starters, I stopped using towels, unless I have an extraordinary amount of fine curds left in a batch. In other words, a batch which failed to develop firm curds capable of achieving a good stretch. Normally, there is only a handful of ricotta-type curds left, which are mostly trapped by the colander. And I figure that if the goats and chickens who usually drink the excess why get a few curds, that is fine.
Secondly, I no longer prepare such huge packages of cheese. My husband can no longer eat dairy, and this means that we're going through less than half the cheese we used previously. I prefer smaller packages, which are also nicer for giving as gifts, should I wish to share the bounty.
Thirdly, I have developed a pretty good feel for the optimal temperature at which to treat most amounts and variations of curds, and can work the curds more quickly by using my hands as much as possible, and spoons less. Sometimes I need to keep a bowl of cold water handy so I can dip my hands a few seconds at a time, between bouts in the whey. I can't exactly describe for you this optimal temperature . . . but if you can find it, you will save yourself trouble. I can only describe it as "almost scalding" for someone with tough hands.
Even though it is fairly foolproof, there is a chance that something may go wrong with your mozzarella.
Out of perhaps 200 pots of mozzarella cheese I have made, I have only had it fail to turn out once. In this case, it fell back into particles during Stage 3, and became ricotta cheese. I spent much time speculating as to the cause, and finally concluded it probably was due to some colostrum that made its way into the milk I used. There is nothing wrong with this ricotta; it works as well as ever--for the things ricotta is good for.
So, even a failure won't be a waste.
Supplies and Resources
- Cheese Making – David Fankhauser
Welcome to Cheese Making, formerly "Fankhauser's Cheese Page." Yes, my site is transitioning--I appreciate your patience. Please let me know if you have any difficulty finding something--especially if it is something you have found here before. ~Davi
- Large Tea Towels
These large cotton towels are about 25"x30", and are just the thing for draining and hanging cheeses.
Information, ideas, and insights for everyone who raises, manages, or just loves goats.
- Hoegger Supply Co.
Hoegger Goat Supply - since 1935. Rennet, cheese cultures, goat equipment...
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Joilene Rasmussen