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Cheese: Mozzarella

posted by Jane 05-10-101 2:24 PM

by Beatrice Ojakangas - Knight Ridder News Service

Fresh mozzarella made by hand. Sounds complicated and expensive, doesn't it? Nothing could be further from the truth. You can make fresh mozzarella at home in less time than it takes to make a box cake mix. It isn't rocket science, and you don't need the computer skills of a 6-year-old to understand what you're doing.
We're talking firm, fresh cheese here, with a mild flavor, that can be sliced. Not at all like aged or ripened cheese.

Actually, though, ripened cheese starts its life the same way as fresh cheese, only it goes through a brining process and controlled temperature aging -- while fresh cheese goes right onto a bruschetta topped with fresh tomato or a pizza or into a salad, or onto a piece of buttered toast. And what a delicious way to eat your four glasses of milk a day!

What do you need to make fresh cheese? A nonaluminum pot that will hold a gallon of milk, a custard cup to dissolve the rennet, a spoon, a candy thermometer (or an instant reading thermometer -- I love my digital one) and a large slotted spoon or a small sieve. A glass bowl and a microwave oven are handy to further speed up the cheesemaking process.

Ingredients? One gallon of skim, 1 percent or 2 percent milk, citric acid, rennet tablets and regular table salt. One gallon of milk will produce about 12 ounces of cheese.
Citric acid and rennet are available by mail order -- or you might check your local pharmacy. Or you can order the supplies through the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. (see box). I ordered their cheesemaking kit for $19.95, which comes with enough supplies to make 20 batches of mozzarella cheese or ricotta (you'll love the fresh taste of homemade ricotta). One batch and I was hooked!
This is the time of year I think of making cheese. It goes back to my farm heritage. Cows give birth in the springtime and milk was abundant on our little farm in Minnesota. As a teenager, I made an aged yellow cheese following the instructions in a county extension service pamphlet.

It wasn't until recently that the idea of making cheese in small batches gained interest across the country. Artisan cheesemakers make high-quality fresh cheeses in small amounts that are sold mostly to restaurants and specialty shops.
If you make family-sized batches of cheese, like you would bake bread, you can add a whole new dimension to life in the kitchen. Or you might discover a rewarding activity to share with your children or grandchildren. I found that I can start the dough for French or whole-grain bread, and when the dough is done, I shape and set it to rise. By the time the bread is baked, I can have fresh cheese made, too.
Beatrice Ojakangas is the author of more than a dozen cookbooks including The Great Scandinavian Baking Book (Minnesota, $18.95).

Most bottled waters are chlorine-free.
rennet tablet (see Supplies box)
1/4 cup cool, chlorine-free water
1 gallon milk (2 percent, 1 percent or skim)
2 teaspoons citric acid (see Supplies box)

Crush the rennet into the water and stir to dissolve. Pour milk into a nonreactive pot (that means no aluminum or cast-iron). Place over medium heat. Sprinkle the citric acid over the milk and stir a few times.
Heat milk to 88 degrees (check with an instant-read or candy thermometer). Milk will begin to curdle.
At 88 degrees, add the rennet solution and continue stirring slowly every few minutes until the milk reaches 105 degrees. Turn off the heat. Large curds will appear and begin to separate from the whey (the clear, greenish liquid).

With a slotted spoon or mesh strainer, scoop the curd into a large glass bowl. (If it's still too liquid, let it set for a few more minutes). Press the curds gently with your hand and pour off as much whey as possible.
Microwave curds on high for 1 minute, then drain off all excess whey. (See note for stove-top variation.) With a spoon, press curds into a ball until cool. Microwave two more times for 35 seconds each, and continue to drain the whey and work cheese into a ball.

In the meantime, place the whey over medium heat and let it heat to about 175 degrees.

When cheese is cool enough to touch, knead it like bread dough until smooth. When you can stretch it like taffy, it is done. You can sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons salt into the cheese while you are kneading and stretching it.

The cheese will become stretchy, smooth and shiny. If it is difficult to stretch and breaks easily, dip it into the hot whey for a few seconds to make it warm and pliable. Then again pick it up and stretch it into a long rope. Fold over and stretch again. Dip in hot whey as needed to make the cheese pliable.

When the cheese is smooth and shiny (this takes just a few minutes), it is ready to eat. Shape it into a log or golf ball-size balls, then store in a solution of 2 teaspoons salt to 1 cup water. This makes 3/4 pound cheese.
Note: If you don't have a microwave, heat the whey to 175 degrees on top of the range in a non-aluminum pot. Add 1/4 cup salt. Shape cheese into one or more balls; put into a ladle or strainer and dip them into the hot whey for several seconds. Knead between dipping with spoons and repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable.

Per 1-ounce serving (with 2 percent milk): 72 calories, 7 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, 5 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 62 percent calories as fat, no fiber, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 132 milligrams sodium.

F 1 gallon milk (skim, 1 percent, 2 percent or whole)
1 teaspoon citric acid or 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt

Pour milk into a large, non-reactive pot. Add the acid (or lemon juice) and 1 teaspoon salt and stir.
Heat the milk to 195 degrees. Stir often to avoid scorching. When curds and whey separate, turn off the heat. Allow to set undisturbed for 10 minutes.

Line a colander with a clean muslin dish towel or several layers of cheesecloth and place over a large container. Ladle the hot curds and whey into the cloth-covered colander.
Tie the cloth into a bag and hang the cheese to drain for 1 hour. Makes 1 3/4 to 2 pounds ricotta.
Per 1/2 cup serving (with 2 percent milk): 170 calories, 14 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 53 percent calories as fat, no fiber, 38 milligrams cholesterol, 153 milligrams sodium.

Lightly toast slices of French bread until just crusty, and rub one side of the bread with a cut clove of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with a slice of fresh tomato and a slice or a halved ball of fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with more olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper, thinly sliced fresh basil and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

After stretching the mozzarella until it is smooth and shiny (see recipe), divide the cheese into two parts. Place each part on a flat surface and stretch and flatten with the heel of your hand until it is about 3 inches wide and 8 inches long. Place cheese on top of shaved slices of proscuitto. Roll up, swirling the proscuitto into the cheese. To serve, slice and place on thin slices of French bread or tomatoes.

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