We made cheese!

Jenny and I made our own fresh mozzarella for the first time, and shockingly, it came out pretty well. So I figured I'd write it up and share it with you all.

We have absolutely no idea what we are doing, and while what we did worked, by no means am I claiming this to be THE WAY this is done. I'm sure any cheese maker with an ounce of real knowledge would make a fist and shout, "Lo stai facendo male!", but it's a starting point. Before spending money on materials and planning a meal with your fresh cheese, I highly recommend doing your own research. There are literally thousands of websites, Youtube Videos, and forums dedicated to this, so do some reading first and get familiar with the process before buying anything.

With all that in mind, let's dig in.

The process we followed:

Most of what we did followed this website and a several Youtube clips as well. As I mentioned, there are thousands out there, so don't just take my word for it.

What we used:

1 gallon of 2% milk.
It's important to use something that is NOT "ultra-pasteurized". You'll see this in the grocery store on the label. Unfortunately that eliminates most organics and lactose-free options. I'm sure there are some out there that would work, but here in north-central Wisconsin the options are pretty slim. We used the store brand I think and it was labeled as "Pasteurized". Standard plastic jug, nothing fancy. I think it was $2.50 with a coupon (no, almond, soy, dried, or any other milk alternative doesn't work either). I've read that people have been successful with 1% as well, which I will be trying. Possibly even skim or maybe a combination of skim and 1% or 2% or something.

1/8 tsp of Rennet.
Before looking into this, I'd never heard of rennet before, and frankly, I'm not entirely sure what it does, or how it does it, but it's clearly important. Many of the forums and websites claim that you can find this stuff in tablet form at Wal-Mart. We couldn't find it locally (In Wisconsin? I know, right?) so I ordered my on Amazon for about $12. Turns out it came from a company called "The New England Cheese Making Supply Company" which, completely unplanned, is the website containing the directions I followed. I got "double strength" which allows you to use half the amount called for in the recipe. So, I think the instructions called for 1/4 tsp, but I used 1/8th. The $12 bottle of rennet claims to be able to process 96 gallons of milk, so we figured you use about $0.12 worth in each batch. Not too bad. When you are shopping for this stuff, you'll notice that there is "Animal Rennet" and "Vegetable Rennet". We got the Vegetable for no reason other than it was the only liquid-style we could find that came from a company and in packaging that didn't look like it was made in some hippie's basement.

1 1/2 tsp Citric Acid.
We have a local baking shop that carries citric acid so we got it there. I'm sure you can order it online of you want to and I don't think there is anything fancy about it. So, go look. Who knows, you might find it at the grocery store.


2 gallon or larger pot: We used our stainless pasta pot, but it seems like people use pretty much anything.

large slotted spoon: I'm not sure where we got it, but we have a wide slotted pasta ladle thing. Worked fine. I'm pretty sure any slotted spoon would work though. The larger the better I would say.

digital thermometer I used my digital meat thermometer I use on my grill. I have a frier one, and a candy thermometer, but they all start reading around 100 degrees and this process requires a stop in the 80's and 90's so.. clearly that won't work. My digital meat thermometer worked fine ($2.99 at Ikea I think).

A large colander/strainer: I would avoid plastic, but anything should work. I think the lady on the website used plastic so I'm sure it's fine, but after using a metal one I think it's nicer. Who knows. Probably doesn't matter honestly.

A bowl that the colander will fit inside of and still drain. We used one of our larger glass mixing bowls.

I think that's it.

The Process:
Before getting started, you'll want to dilute your rennet and citric acid. Read the directions on the bottles because it might be different. We diluted the citric acid into 1/2 cup of water, and the rennet into 1/4 cup of water. So, do that and set them aside.

-Dump the entire gallon of milk in to your pot on the stove.

-Stir in the citric acid diluted in water. Stir for a while to make sure it's evenly distributed. The acid causes the milk to curdle, so you'll want to make sure it's evenly distributed.

-Slowly start heating your milk up 90 degrees F.

-Once you are at 90F, stir in the rennet the same way you did the citric acid.

-Put a lid on your pot, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. I went about 7, but I think I'm going to go 10 or more next time. This is where your curd is going to start to form.

-After the 5-10 minutes, you should have a pretty thick and somewhat firm layer of curd on the top of your milk. If you push on it lightly with your spoon you should get some resistance, and it shouldn't break. Pull the edge of the curd back a little to see how thick it is. Mine was about 3/4 of an inch, which I think turned out to be a little thin, but still worked. I think I'm going to shoot for an inch next time.

-Once your curd is at the desired thickness. Using a sharp knife, cut the curd into 1-inch squares. (I think this increases the surface area in contact with the liquid it's floating in...which does something I'm sure)

-Heat the liquid slowly to 110 degrees F while slowly string the curd in the remaining liquid. At this point, my curd started to breakup quite a bit. It started to look like cottage cheese, or that funk that's left in the water when you are poaching an egg. I got a little worried. The videos and websites always showed these nicely formed curd cubes floating in the liquid all nice and firm like tofu. Mine.. didn't look like that. It still worked out ok though.

-Once the liquid is at 110F, using your slotted spoon, start removing all the curd and putting it in the strainer that is sitting in your bowl. Keep doing this untill all the curd is in the strainer.

-Turn your heat up on the remaining liquid, with a target temperature of about 135 or higher, anything less than a boil, but still REALLY hot should be fine.

-While that's heating up, start pressing on the curd in the strainer to squeeze out as much of the liquid as you want, capturing the liquid in the bowl. As the bowl starts to fill up, dump the liquid back in the pot to be heated with the rest of it.

-With as much of the liquid gently squeezed out of the curd, this is the time you get to decide how big you want your finished cheese portions to be. We chose two baseball sized chunks, and seprarated them at this point. If you think you can work the entire thing and want one giant chunk, go for it. Smaller ones? whatever you like, Your curd should feel pretty loose and just barely being held together. It'll be all bumpy and drippy, and, frankly it will feel like you did something wrong. You're still ok. Pulling it apart into your desired portions should be super easy and it will practically be falling apart in your hands.

- Try to pack enough of it together to get the size you want, and carefully place that portion into the heated liquid until the curd ball is heated through.

- Lift the heated curd out of the liquid with the slotted spoon, and knead it with your hands. Combine and squishing kind of knead with some stretching and twisting. You should start to feel it getting stronger and tighter. When it takes a good amount of effort to stretch it, put it back in the liquid to warm it back up, then continue kneading and stretching and putting it back in the liquid when it cools off too much. It should be HOT, like almost too hot to handle when you are working with it. You'll probably heat it back up 5 or 6 times until the consistency is firm, smooth and shiny. You can stop whenever you want really, but we got ours to almost the shine and constancy of the premade stuff.

- Once you are happy with it, put it on a plate, and eat up. We salted ours a little. I think the store bought stuff is stored in a salt water of some sort so it's more salty then the stuff you just made. You can salt it, or we actually liked it with only a hint of sea salt on it. It turned out to be not quite as creamy and a little drier then we were used to. Which actually worked out when we used it for pizza.

That's pretty much it. You can see more of the cheese pictures here