Mozzarella may seem like the epitome of soft cheeses, but as I’ve mentioned previously, it was the first cheese I learned to make. I have to thank the Cheese Queen, Ricki Carroll, for this: her books, kits, and company are the reason most people, including me and my young niece, started making cheese at home. Most of the recipes you’ll find today for quick mozzarella are nearly identical to her original kit instructions, including mine. But after years of making mozzarella at home, I’ve learned enough techniques and tips that I’m posting my own version, along with a recipe that will use the first harvest from your garden.
You’ll find more tips and tricks in the recipe below, and I have so many other helpful ideas that I’ve created a new mozzarella-making workshop. Consider these points about making mozzarella before you dive in on your own:
- Tools. You’ll notice that my recipe uses a lot of standard and a few specialty tools: 2 pots, 3 bowls, 2 measuring cups, 2 spoons, a colander, a long knife, a cooling rack, and a baking pan, plus a thermometer, heat-resistant rubber gloves, and perhaps some butter muslin. I have a tiny kitchen, so I’ve tried making mozzarella with a single pot, bowl, measuring cup, and spoon, as well as bare hands. Ultimately, fewer tools makes a bigger mess and less impressive cheese. So go big—you can always assign cleanup to your chief cheese eater.
- Ingredients. Although this style of mozzarella is essentially a high-acid cheese, it requires more ingredients and steps than Lemon Cheese, which is why I don’t teach it as my intro class to fermenting dairy. I prefer citric acid to lemon juice or vinegar for mozzarella; it seems to produce more consistent results. And rennet is a must for mozzarella: citric acid lowers the pH of the milk, but vegetable rennet lets the fat cells condense into a protein chain that you can knead and stretch. I can usually find both locally at a health-food store.
- Time. 30-Minute Mozzarella is the common title for quick mozz recipes. If you heat your milk quickly, stretch your cheese with the aid of a microwave, and practice, you might be this speedy. I’ve found I get better results and enjoy the process more if I take my time. Give yourself an hour. Prepare your space, and gather your tools and ingredients. Heat your milk slowly—the final cheese will have better texture and flavor. Shape and cool the cheese in batches. The hour will go by surprisingly quickly, and the cheese you create will amaze you.
- Technique. Whenever you ferment dairy, the same basic techniques apply: Keep it fresh and clean, and give it time. Give yourself some latitude as well: Your first batch of fresh mozzarella is almost guaranteed to be better than a store-bought block or shredded bag. But practice will help you nail the texture and shaping. If you’ve perfected your technique but want more flavor, it’s time to step it up to the process for traditional mozzarella. Several of my favorite cheesemakers can get you started.
Ready to give Quick Homemade Mozzarella a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need pasteurized milk (not ultrapasteurized) plus citric acid, rennet, and salt.
1. Heat the milk.
2. Add the coagulants and wait for the curds and whey to separate.
3. Cut and drain the curds.
4. Stretch the cheese and enjoy.
Quick Homemade Mozzarella
1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid
1/2 cup cool, unchlorinated water, divided
1/4 teaspoon liquid vegetable rennet
1-1/2 teaspoons cheese salt, divided
1–2 trays of ice cubes (optional)
Pour the milk into a large stainless steel or other nonreactive pot and heat it slowly over medium-low heat, stirring and checking the temperature frequently. Meanwhile, dissolve the citric acid in 1/4 cup of water; in a separate cup, dilute the rennet in the remaining 1/4 cup of water.
When the milk temperature reaches 55°F, add the citric acid solution and mix thoroughly. When it reaches 90°F, gently stir in the diluted rennet, using an up-and-down motion for about 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for 5 minutes. If the whey is still milky, replace the pot’s lid and let the curds sit another 5 minutes until the whey is almost yellow green. While you wait, fill three-quarters of a wide, 6- to 8-quart pot with water, bring it to a simmer, and then turn off the heat.
Using a long knife that reaches the bottom of the pot, cut the curds four times, forming cubes: Cut once in vertical lines about 1 inch apart, starting from the far side of the pot and pulling the knife toward you while ensuring it reaches the bottom of the pot. Turn the pot 90 degrees and cut again, forming a checkerboard. For the third set of cuts, angle the knife 45 degrees and draw it along the just-cut lines. Turn the pot 90 degrees and repeat the angled cuts along the first lines.
Return the pot to medium-low heat and continue heating the contents to 110°F, gently stirring. Set a colander over a 4-quart or larger bowl, and then slowly pour the whey through the colander and into the bowl, catching the curds in the colander. Shape them into two loose balls, and set the colander over another bowl. Save the whey for another use.
Check the temperature of your hot pot of water, turning on enough heat to maintain it at 175°F. Put on some rubber or other heat-resistant gloves. Using a large slotted spoon or ladle, dip one ball of cheese curds into the hot water, letting it rest there for a few seconds. Lift the ball from the water and into the colander, and then gently stretch and fold the curds 4–5 times, like you’re kneading bread. Dip the ball back into the hot water; sprinkle the hot mass with 3/4 teaspoon of cheese salt before kneading the ball again. Repeat the heat-and-knead process several more times; stop when the curd ball is hot to the center, smooth, and elastic and you can pull it like taffy without breaking. Shape the cheese as desired into one or more balls, logs, or braids; dip the cheese in the hot water as needed to soften it for shaping. Repeat the heat-and-knead process with the second ball of cheese curds.
Eat the cheese immediately, or cool it for storage: Fill a large bowl with ice water, and then set the shaped cheese into the bath to cool rapidly; turn it several times in the first few minutes to keep it from losing shape, and then let it sit in the bath for 30 minutes. Set a cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet and cover it with a tea towel; let the drained cheese rest on the towel until it is no longer wet. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Makes about 3/4 pound.
Tips & Tricks
- I use nonhomogenized milk for all my cheesemaking, which isn’t strictly necessary for soft, acid-based cheeses. But do make sure your milk is not ultrapasteurized; the high-heat pasteurization keeps the curds from combining.
- If your tap water is treated at the source with chlorine and other additives, you may be disappointed by the density, texture, and flavor of your cheese. Unchlorinated water will give the best results.
- If the holes of your colander are so large that curds get stuck or slip through, line the colander with butter muslin before draining. This cheesecloth is also useful in shaping: if your cheese balls are lumpy, hang each in muslin when you set it in the ice bath like you would to drain Lemon Cheese.
- Cutting the curds helps to release the whey. The smaller you cut the curds, the drier the cheese. Fresh mozzarella should be a bit moist, so large curds are fine. I use a bread knife to make the cuts and then break apart any overly large curds with the spoon as I reheat and stir.
- Once you’ve shaped your mozzarella, it takes willpower to keep from eating it out of hand. I typically make a double batch so that I can pop some warm motz in my mouth and still have cheese for other meals (see below).
Twice as Tasty
Now that you’ve made fresh mozzarella, you’ll want to showcase it. It’s delicious as a filler for squash blossoms, breadsticks, and calzones, but your eaters may not easily distinguish your homemade efforts from store-bought cheese when it’s tucked away and melted. Sourdough pizza gives you more of a chance to show off, but your mozzarella will really shine if you serve it uncooked.
The obvious mozzarella showcase is a caprese salad. Here, a recipe is less important than using fresh, just picked tomatoes and basil: which won’t happen at the start of your growing season. Instead, add your homemade dairy to a filling spring pasta salad that takes advantage of the first cuttings from your garden or local farmer. By keeping the dressing light and the flavors fresh but not overpowering, your new cheese will stand out.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need 3 main ingredients plus some spring vegetables and the ingredients for a simple salad dressing.
1. Prep your pasta, vegetables, and dressing.
2. Combine these ingredients with your nuts and cheese.
3. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled.
Spring Pasta and Fresh Mozzarella Salad
2 ounces radishes (about 1/4 cup when sliced)
1–2 ounces onion tops or scallions (about 1/4 cup when sliced)
6 ounces kale
2 teaspoons Spicy German-Style Mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
12 ounces asparagus
1/3 cup sliced almonds or other chopped nuts
4 ounces Quick Homemade Mozzarella, sliced and torn in strips
Preheat the oven to 475°F, and heat a large pot of water. Boil the pasta until al dente, following package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water until chilled through; set aside.
While the pasta cooks, thinly slice the radishes and onions. Remove the kale stems and coarsely chop the leaves. Place the leaves in a large bowl; zest in the lemon and toss. Drizzle with a little olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and a little salt. Massage the leaves with clean hands for about 2 minutes, until the kale softens. Also make the dressing: In a small jar, shake the juice of 1/2 lemon, mustard, salt, and pepper until combined. Pour in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, shake to emulsify, and set aside.
Snap off the asparagus ends, and then snap each stalk into 1- to 2-inch lengths. Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, and roll the asparagus in it until coated. Roast for 12–15 minutes, until just fork tender; transfer to the kale bowl. While the oven is still hot, spread the almond slices on the now-empty baking sheet and toast for 3–4 minutes, watching carefully, until golden.
Add the pasta, other vegetables, and almonds to the kale bowl. Shake the dressing again, pour it on the salad, and toss to coat. Add the onion and cheese and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate until ready to eat and serve chilled. Serves 4 as a main and 6–8 as a side.
Tips & Tricks
- Start to finish, this salad comes together more quickly than you’d think. But you can also plan ahead for a faster meal. Cook up extra noodles for a hot pasta dish earlier in the week. Use asparagus left over from last night’s dinner. Replace the listed vegetables with any you have on hand, like spinach, arugula, pea shoots, sugar snap peas, and chives.
- This vegetarian salad is a well-rounded one-dish meal. To boost the protein, top it with hard-boiled egg or a slab of seared tuna. Vegans can skip the cheese and toss in cooked beans; gluten-free eaters can use rice noodles.
- If you’re serving this salad alongside grilled fish, shrimp, chicken, or other meat, char the asparagus over the coals too. Simply toast the nuts in a toaster oven or add them untoasted.
Want to learn more? Twice as Tasty is teaching these techniques in a new workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more about Twice as Tasty Live workshops.