It’s been two weeks since my last post, and I’m both happy and disappointed in the events that have transpired since then. Finding a mentor is difficult, especially when you’re working on a rather niche skill like cheese making. Through some family contacts, I was able to find someone willing to mentor me, but due to scheduling issues they were forced to cancel their commitment.

Since having my mentor cancel on me, I’ve been focusing on learning what I can by myself alongside searching for another mentor. I’ve been able to learn a fair bit by myself by watching YouTube tutorials. Last weekend, since my mentor at the time was busy, I attempted to make my very own homemade mozzarella. Here’s what I did, what went wrong, what went right, and what I learned for next time:

I started out with fresh, pasteurized, whole milk. When buying your milk, apparently anything can work, but milk pasteurized at very high temperatures (UHT pasteurized) doesn’t, since the high temperatures ruin the proteins in the milk and leave them unable to form curds.

Next, I got about 275 mL of water, 15 mL of citric acid, and a fourth of a rennet tablet. Rennet is an essential ingredient in the cheese making process. It’s a mixture of enzymes that comes from the stomachs of baby cows, goats, and sheep. I used calf’s rennet because that was all I could find. I’m not sure if the type of rennet makes a big difference, but I would like to test out different kinds.

For my first step, I mixed the citric acid and water together, then put that mixture into the milk. At this stage of production, I made an error. I didn’t have a thermometer suitable for measuring the temperature of the milk while it was heating up in the pot, so I had to trust my instincts to decide when it had reached approximately 33 degrees Celsius.

While the milk was heating, I dissolved the rennet tablet in a bit of water. Something I learned about rennet, it’s most potent 15 minutes after dissolving. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I’d assume it’s because the chemical process that causes milk to curdle uses up the enzymes in the process.

After adding the rennet mixture, I removed my milk from the heat source and let it sit for about 4-5 minutes. I don’t think that my milk was heated enough when I removed it from heat, but I’m not sure how the curds that formed were affected. The curds looked pretty delicious, like a combination of extremely moist mozzarella and tofu.

After separating my curds from the rest of the liquid, I had to cut them into uniform pieces. I tried to cut in a grid like pattern, horizontally and vertically, which made my curds into almost perfect squares. The uniform pieces made the next step easier to complete.

After cutting the curds, I put them back into the pan to heat at about 36 degrees Celsius. Again, no thermometer, so I was again relying on my instincts to get the temperature right. Cooking the curds further separates them from liquid.

Now, after heating up the curds a tad, there are two ways to finish off the mozzarella. You can either heat them in a microwave, or submerge them in a pot of water heated to 50 degrees. Both methods achieve the end goal, but people claim that finishing the mozzarella in water makes it taste better, and leaves the cheese with a better texture. I used the microwave method for this batch, but I will certainly make it using the underwater method for the next.

After heating your cheese, either in the microwave or the water, you will need to stretch and shape your mozzarella. The proper shaping technique involves grabbing a hunk of the product in your hands, stretching it slightly, folding it over itself, and repeating. At this stage, it’s very easy to ruin your cheese by overworking it, which in this case means it becomes stiff and rather unappetizing. It’s better to take your time and take care while stretching the cheese, so that it doesn’t get ruined.

After stretching your cheese, you can begin to shape it. I personally made little bite-sized mozzarella balls, although if you wanted you could make boulder sized pieces, or stars, or hearts, or any shape you desired. The finished mozzarella can be eaten right away, or kept for up to a week in the fridge.

For my first batch of cheese that I’ve ever made, it wasn’t half bad. It definitely needed more flavor, and the cheese was way too rubbery, but it was edible, and not half bad when melted on a bread roll. I’m overall satisfied with what I’ve done so far, and for next time I’m going to acquire a thermometer and some cheese cloth for the next batch. Since I didn’t answer mentor questions in this post, I plan to answer them in post #3 along with the questions for post #3. My goals for February are finding a mentor, mastering mozzarella, and making a batch of cheese good enough to bring in to the class to share.

I’m looking forward to the rest of In-Depth.

Until next time, Alan