Like many home cheese makers, I have made my fair share of “30-minute” mozzarella – a recipe that calls for direct acidification with vinegar or citric acid. Though its simple formula gives almost instantaneous results, I have always found this version to be a bit lacking in flavor. I prefer the traditional method of using a starter culture to slowly acidify the milk over the course of hours. It will take most of an afternoon to make, but can be unattended for much of that time. This recipe is for 2 gallons of milk.
Phase 1: Heating and Culturing
If you are using raw milk, simply heat to 98-100 F. If you want to pasteurize your milk, heat to 145 F for 30 minutes). Cool milk down to 98-100 F. I like to use my kitchen sink as a cheese “vat," by placing a stainless steel pot full of milk in the sink and filling it with hot tap water. This is a gentle way to heat the milk and will prevent any scorching.
Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of TA 61 or other thermophilic culture on top of the milk and gently stir for 1-2 minutes. Let milk ripen for an hour. Maintain temperature between 98-100 F. You may need to drain and replace the hot water in the sink.
Phase 2: Rennet and Cut
After milk has ripened (it should smell slightly tangy), add 1/2 teaspoon of single-strength liquid rennet mixed with a little cool, tap water. Stir in a gentle up and down motion for 1-2 minutes, being careful not so cause too much turbulence in the pot.
The curd should be set after 45 minutes. Check for a “clean break.”
Phase 3: Stirring, Cutting and Draining
Using a straight-blade knife, make horizontal and vertical cuts in the curd (about 2 inches apart). Let rest for 5 minutes.
Gently stirring, cut the curds into hazelnut sized pieces with a butter knife. Maintain the temperature at 98-100 F and gently stir for 20 minutes. The smaller you cut the pieces, the drier your cheese will be, so stop stirring if your curds are getting too small.
Let the curds settle under the whey for 45 minutes to an hour. If you have a PH meter, it should read 6.0.
Drain off the whey, first by ladling, then by slowly dumping curds and whey into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Gently press whey out of curds. Keep the cakes warm (95-100 F) to continue developing the acidity you will need for a good stretch. I recommend simply putting the curds back into the pot in the sink filled with warm water. Let rest for about 2 hours. You are building the final amount of acid needed before the stretch! In the meantime, heat up a pot water on the stove to 170-180 F.
Phase 4: Stretching
*Before you begin stretching, test your curd for readiness. Place a small chunk of curd in some of the hot 180 F water and leave it for a few minutes. If the curd stretches, you are ready to process the rest of your curd. If it doesn’t seem to be stretching, let the curd mass rest in the sink for another 20 minutes.
Once the curd is ready, cut your mass into large chunks and place one in a medium-sized stainless steel bowl. Sprinkle salt as desired (I recommend starting with an ounce and working up from there), then pour the hot water over the curd and let sit the 180 F water for a few minutes. Using wooden spoons or your hands (with rubber gloves!), begin to stretch the curd by holding it and letting it drop from its own weight. Once it seems pliable, you can begin to pull on either end and fold it in on itself to form a ball. If it seems uncooperative, add some more hot water to the bowl and give it another dunk.
Once you have finished forming your mozzarella, place them in a bowl of cool water to help hold their shape. When you are ready to store your cheese, place the balls in an airtight container with a brine made of 1/2 gallon of water, 1 ounce salt, 1 teaspoon calcium chloride, and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar. If you plan on eating it in the next few days, you can also wrap it in cheese paper or plastic wrap.