Remember when I told you about the cheese kit sister Gus gave me for Christmas? Well yesterday was mozzarella-making day! The kit came with everything you need to make ten 1-lb. batches of either ricotta or mozzarella -- even some cheesecloth and a handy little thermometer. The only other thing you need is a gallon of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) or raw whole milk per batch.
First you sterilize your pot and utensils in boiling water. Next you dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet in one little bowl of water, and a half tablespoon of granulated citric acid in another. Then you pour a gallon of milk into a large pot, add the citric acid solution, and heat it slowly until it reaches 90 F, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching.
Once it hits 90, you add the rennet solution, stir for about 30 seconds, and then continue heating until it hits 105 F.
If you're lucky, that's when the curds and whey will magically begin to separate from one another. Then the curds pull away from the sides of the pan, and gravitate towards the center of the pot.
Using a big slotted spoon, you scoop the curds out into a large, heat-resistant bowl. Then, holding the cheese in with your spoon, you tilt the bowl to drain off any whey that came with it. You are left with what looks like a clump of melted cheese. Now comes the fun part -- the stretching! You heat the curd bowl in the microwave for one minute on medium power, and drain off the whey again, then check the temperature of the curd blob. The cheese won't stretch properly unless you get the temp up to 135 F., so you must keep nuking and draining, in 30-second increments, until it's hot enough. Then you sprinkle the cheese salt (and herbs, if you wish) over your blob and, either with rubber-glove-protected hands, or using two large spoons, you gently fold and stretch the cheese just until the salt is incorporated throughout -- not too much. Et Voila!
You end up with a gorgeous one pound ball, braid, or whatever, of fresh mozzarella. Shiny! Such a wonderful exercise in "being here" too, for you really have no choice but to be mindful when you are making cheese.
It's best eaten immediately, but can be covered and refrigerated for up to a week (though the instructions said NOT to store the cheese in water or whey, for that would cause it to become slimy and disintegrate.) Remind me to tell you more about these awesome reusable food wraps that were also part of my sister's Christmas gift to me. This one is coated in a thin layer of beeswax that softens and molds to the shape of your bowl just from the heat of your hands, then hardens again in the refrigerator.
We crumbled some of the mozzarella over our penne with spicy arribiata sauce last night. Delicioso! Unfortunately, that only used up an eighth of our ball, and I need ideas for how to use the rest of it up before the end of the week. If tomatoes were in season, we'd be eating Caprese salads every day, but alas, they are not. Suggestions anyone?