Monday, April 16, 2012

Mozzarella making 1 - of visions, idiots and partial successes

Tuscan Foodie's mozzarellas

In view of the Mozzarella potluck party on April 29 (sorry folks, all seats are taken), I thought it would be wise to make mozzarella a couple of times in advance, so as to be able to at least pretend to know what I am doing with my guests.

I bought the rennet (tablets of enzymes that create the curds and develop flavors), the citric acid (a food additive used to preserve canned goods and to add sourness to sour things), and a gallon of whole milk.  I also bought a book called "the complete idiot's guide to cheese making". Although I do not necessarily consider myself an idiot, I know my limits: I may be a good cook, but I am definitely no cheese mongrel. Making cheese and cooking are definitely not the same game. So I figured I could use all the help I could get.

It is true that Food52 had a tutorial on how to make mozzarella, but I had a feeling about the process illustrated there: I knew it wouldn't work for me. Don't ask me why I knew it: I sometimes am a real witch with visions and all, so I just knew that it wouldn't work, and that it would be good to have a back-up plan. That's where the idiot's guide came in. And good thing that it did come in, because it rescued the day.

The two processes detailed in the idiot's guide and on Food52 are very similar up to the point in which you need to start kneading the mozzarellas. But the idiot's guide calls for two things that Food52 doesn't call for: distilled water and a calcium chloride solution. I had distilled water but I didn't have the calcium chloride solution, and I didn't feel like trying to trace it down (or even to start understanding what it was). The idiot's guide was also adamant that I used flaked salt, and that I do not use other types of salt. Food52 wasn't so picky about the salt (it doesn't even specify salt's quantity), and although my brain told me that salt must be important because the same volume of table salt and kosher salt (for instance) weigh very much differently, I went with the salt I had (kosher).

At this point you may start to wonder why I bought the book if I wasn't following it, and I think this would be an excellent question. Alas, it is one I don't feel like answering at the moment, because it would imply that I really am an idiot. So let's move on.

My ingredients were:
  • 1 gallon of whole milk, pasteurized but NOT ultrapasteurized. It turns out that organic milk is not good for making mozzarella because it is often ultrapasteurized. So I had a regular milk. 
  • 1/2 tab of rennet  (not the 1/4 indicated by food52 because the rennet I bought specifically called for 1/2 tablet for a gallon of milk)
  • citric acid
  • distilled water 
The temperatures given in the Food52 tutorial were also different from the temperatures given by the idiot's guide, and I figured I should just stick with Food52.
The mozzarella making process
It all went well up to a point: the curds did form, the whey did separate, and I did end up with curds ready to be shaped in mozzarella. By that point I decided that I would separate my curds in two batches: I would make one mozzarella using the hot water soaking method explained by Food52 and I would make the other using the microwave method identified by the idiot's guide.

The microwave method worked (kinda): I ended up with a mozzarella which is basically very similar in terms of texture and flavor to the one you buy in the supermarket to be put on your pizza. It did not resemble fresh mozzarella, at all. Was it edible? Yes. Was it on par with the Galbani or Belgioso things you can buy at a supermarket? Yes, it was perhaps on par, but definitely not superior.

The final product
Then there was the other mozzarella. Food 52 says that once you have drained all the curds off the excess of whey, you should then re-soak them in warm water so that they get warm enough to knead. I did soak them in hot water, but the curds completely melt away, basically getting to the same stage of curds in whey. Impossible to work with. So to rescue things I just drained the curds again, and made another mozzarella in the microwave using the idiot's guide's method. I ended up with another mozzarella which was slightly different than the first: sourer, but slightly juicer (it is the one on the left in the photo below). I guess the soaking method did help getting some juices in.

The difference in juiciness is clear.

In terms of flavor and texture, again the second mozzarella was similar to the pizza mozzarella that you can buy at the supermarket, but neither one came anywhere near the real fresh mozzarella you can buy in Italy.

Since I had guests over for a pizza dinner, I put the mozzarella to work, using them in a filled focaccia. It worked, the flavor was there, but the mozzarella didn't melt as store-bought mozzarellas do. The idiot's guide's says it's not my fault: it is the milk's fault. "The reason has to do with the amount of bound calcium in the milk". Basically I need to find a milk with less calcium (and good thing I didn't use the calcium chloride solution either: on this Food52 was right).

Since I had all that fresh whey available after making mozzarella, I also decided to make fresh ricotta. I added half a gallon of whole milk and lemon juice, and I ended up with a very tasty and very good fresh ricotta cheese.

So, to cut a long story short:
  • I did not manage to obtain a mozzarella using the Food52 method.
  • I did manage to get edible and supermarket quality mozzarella with a microwave method.
  • I did not manage to get a product superior to the ones you can buy in stores.
  • I did get an excellent byproduct (fresh ricotta) that I wasn't going for, but that actually is better than the one you can buy in store.
Do I consider myself defeated? Absolutely not: I will try again soon and report back.

Fresh ricotta - an excellent byproduct of mozzarella making


hardlikearmour said...

If you try again, give these instructions a whirl & purchase some thin neoprene gloves at the hardware store to use when stretching the hot curd:

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Thank you, hardlikearmour. I will give these instructions a try!

Claudio said...

I'm going slightly OT from your mozzarella, but it's just to let you know that I tried your Roasted Sweet Peppers and they came out very good! Obviously I used italian "peperoni gialli" and the fit perfectly. Maybe I put too much garlic but they were really tasty and have been a success!

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Claudio, I am glad to hear! And I am sure that the the classic yellow bell peppers are a lot easier to peel than those tiny Mexican sweet peppers that always take me AGES to peel...


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