We don’t know who made the first cheese, but they managed to find some interesting ingredients along the way. One is rennet and the other is citric acid. You can assume that lemon juice is citric acid, but it doesn’t deliver the same outcome as powdered citric acid (although our ancient ancestors probably used good, old lemon juice). Citric acid for cheese making usually comes as a powder or in tablet form.
Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomachs of baby claves, goats and sheep that cause milk to curdle. This enzyme is what the immature animals use to digest their mother’s milk. This is probably how cheese was first discovered, considering that a sheep, calf or goat stomach was often used by ancient people as a container for liquids. All it took was someone to put some milk in this stomach container and have the courage to taste it after it curdled.
There are also vegetable-based rennets made from figs, thistles, safflower and dried caper leaves. And to no one’s surprise, we now have genetically modified rennets in addition to microbial rennets made from a form of mold. Don’t sweat the mold part. It’s what makes blue cheese, well, blue. The rennet you use is up to you and it often comes as a liquid in a small bottle.
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Salt is also a common addition to many cheeses and offers preservative properties.
You can find rennets and citric acid powder on the Internet or at some specialty food stores. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find them at your everyday grocery store.
As to salt, sea salt or Kosher salt is usually the salt of choice.
The other key ingredient for any cheese is milk. Whole milk is usually the milk of choice, and many people prefer raw, unpasteurized milk for their cheese making. Of course, buying unpasteurized milk is very difficult in some states in the U.S., so you probably want to go the standard whole-milk, grocery store route.
You’re also going to need to do some precise cooking with low temperatures, so you’ll need a food thermometer to manage and control temps.
Cheese making involves curdling milk and separating the whey or milky fluid that accompanies the curdled milk or “curds.”
The firm curds are the foundation for any cheese, and mozzarella is one of the simplest to make. So we’re going to explore that recipe as an introduction to cheese-making.
- 1 gallon of whole milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons of citric acid powder (powdered or crushed tablets)
- ¼ teaspoon of liquid rennet
- 1 or 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt, depending on how salty you like your cheese
- Ice water
- A large non-aluminum cooking pot
- A spatula (I use a plastic spatula so it won’t scratch the pot)
- A large slotted spoon
- A colander
- An instant-read food thermometer
- A microwave oven (short bursts help remove the whey from the curd)
- Microwave safe bowl
DIRECTIONS FOR MOZZARELLA CHEESE:
- Sprinkle 1 ½ teaspoons of the citric acid powder into a cool, large stainless-steel pot. Pour ¼ cup of cold water over the citric acid powder and stir until dissolved.
- Pour the gallon of milk into the citric acid solution in the pot and stir to combine.
- Over medium-low heat, bring the temperature to 90-degrees Fahrenheit using your cooking thermometer to measure the temp. When you reach the 90-degree mark, remove the pan from the stovetop and pour in the ¼ teaspoon of rennet liquid.
- Gently stir the solution with a circular up-and-down motion for about 30 seconds and then use your spoon to stop the stirred motion of the milk. You want it to stay still while the rennet interacts with the milk.
- Place a lid on the pot and let stand for 5 minutes.
- When the 5 minutes are up, you will notice a creamy almost custard-like appearance to the mix.
- Take your spatula and cut the curd down to the bottom of the pan in one-inch squares, forming a checkerboard.
- Return the pot to the stovetop over medium heat and stir gently until the temperature reaches 105-degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use your slotted spoon to remove the curd to a colander over a sink or bowl if you want to reserve the whey.
- Turn and spin the colander to drain off as much of the liquid/whey as possible.
- Grab the ball of mozzarella from the colander and gently squeeze with your hands over the colander to release more liquid. Work it like taffy and pull and stretch and form into a ball after each of the following steps.
- Now it’s microwave time. You can skip this step if you’re adverse to microwaves, but this will help to reduce the moisture level. Transfer the mozzarella to your microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Remove the bowl and pour off the liquid. Press the curd and drain off more liquid. And stretch and pull again. Microwave it again for 30 seconds and repeat. Pull and stretch the cheese and microwave one last time for 30 seconds and repeat.
- Spread the salt over the cheese and work and knead the salt into the cheese using your hands.
- Set the cheese ball into a bowl of ice water and let it rest for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Congratulations! You’re done. Mozzarella cheese is best stored in the refrigerator, either wrapped or in a bowl of water in the fridge with a tight-fitting lid. You also can break the large mozzarella ball into smaller balls and squeeze them into shape with your hands to form the ball shape and store them in the fridge in any size you like.
What tips would you add on making cheese? Share your tips in the section below: