What is Mozzarella?
Mozzarella could be the first thing that pops into your head when we mention Formaggio and Italy. It simply means small bits cut off a larger cheese (mozzare .. to cut off). But what is it? How does such a fresh and mild cheese get such a reputation?
With Mozzarella it is all about the quality of the milk and the freshness of the cheese. In Italy freshness is measured in hours rather than days from its production.
Mozzarella is a stretched curd cheese (Pasta Filata). It is best produced from very fresh milk in which the natural or added dairy bacteria convert the sweet lactose in the milk to lactic acid. When the acid level reaches a specific point and the curd is held in hot water, it changes from the normal curd structure to a cheese stretching out into long elastic strands that are worked into the smaller forms and shapes.
This process can include a wide range of cheeses ranging from the very freshest Mozzarella to the longer aged Caciocavallo, Provolone, and Ragusano styles distinguished by their final moisture levels. High moisture for the fresh cheese and low moisture for longer aging.
Those tiny little Boconccini in the deli, the soft moist "fior di latte" that are like a moist cloud of milky flavor,
The small hanging pairs of Scamorza and Scamorza Affumicata (Smoke) cheeses,
The big block of Pizza cheese that can be sliced and shredded.
How can they all be Mozzarella?
All of these cheeses are stretched curd cheeses made with a similar process. The difference in texture and moisture however is due to the temperature at which they are made, how long they are stirred and how much stretching is done.
Just to give a little more perspective here, if we take this process even further with more curd cutting, heating, and stirring we can then move the same milk along into cheeses that are drier, longer aged, and with very strong flavors such as Provolone.
Variations in style
- Mozzarella di Bufala- The original mozzarella from water buffalo in southern Italy. Yes, water buffalo, the same creatures you see plodding through the rice paddies in the Far East but brought into Italy centuries ago to work the land in southern Italy. This is a moister version of the cheese with a very rich flavor due to the higher fat of the buffalo milk.
- Fresh Mozzarella from cows milk. Much of the Mozzarella we see today is made from cow's milk. This is usually the softer moister cheese that we see in delis and usually has a shorter shelf life.
- Low-moisture Mozzarella AKA pizza cheese. This is usually a drier cheese that is often made with reduced fat milk. This is the cheese that pizza shops buy and can be stored and aged for much longer than the fresh Mozzarella.
- The stretched Mozzarella wrappers for cheese such as Burrata and Manteca. The fresh cheese of rich cream mixed with small curd bits or butter made from whey cream is wrapped inside a wrapper of the stretched Mozzarella cheese.
- Goat or ewe's milk Mozzarella? Yes, the Mozzarella can be made from goat's milk as well as ewe's milk but the ewes milk version is quite unusual.
First a few notes on making Mozzarella
In making Mozzarella with a lactic bacteria starter culture, this “cultured” mozzarella is much more flavorful because the bacteria produce their own flavor as they convert the lactose in the milk.
Cultured mozzarella can be made using either thermophilic cultures (used for high temperature cheeses) or mesophilic cultures (for low temperature cheeses).
The cheese can be made from full fat milk as well as low fat milk-the difference will be less flavor in the latter.
If a soft moist cheese is made, it is best eaten within a day or so (in Italy this would be considered fresh for only a few hours).
The drier cheese however can be aged for longer depending on final moisture and will actually improve with a few days aging because of the live bacteria that are still working after the cheese cools and changes the protein structure.
A recipe for making Mozzarella with an acidifying culture
|For this months recipe I have used a range of milks, starting with a normally pasteurized and homogenized milk and then working with the higher temperature pasteurized milks that some of our customers are currently having problems with. Also I have included a great quality raw milk from a local farm here for those lucky enough to have a resource like this. (Yes the neighborhood has been having a lot of pizza this winter.) |
I have also focused on using a good thermophilic culture such as our C201 or TA61 but have had great results using the Y1 Yogurt culture as well.
The recipe and photos below will be for a normal pasteurized milk since so many of our customers have access to this.
I have included a chart here to guide you in using various milk resources:
Changes for Milk Quality
*Normally Pasteurized Milk
161F for 16 seconds
As per recipe below
High Temp Pasteurization
168F+ for 20+ seconds
Increase rennet 50-100% plus increase the coagulation time by 2-3 times that of the recipe below.
Reduce culture by 30-40% and rennet by 20-30% of the recipe below.
Also cook temperatures after cutting the curd may be reduced by 6-10 degrees for a softer final cheese.
Note also that raw milk is not homogenized and the fat % is usually greater than can be held by the curd so you may see a much cloudier whey. This cream can be recovered by allowing it to rise and then skimming it off. It is good for butter or making sour cream since it also contains the bacteria.
|No Ultra-Pasteurized Milk
||It just will not work due to protein damage and calcium changes|
Before you begin:
You will need:
2 gallons of milk (Not Ultra-Pasteurized)
1 packet of our thermophilic culture C201 or 1/4 tsp of the TA61
(I have also used about 1.5% or 3.5-4 oz. of our Y1 Yogurt that was made up with great results)
Rennet 1/2 tsp or 2.5 ml liquid rennet (single strength) or 1/2 rennet tablet
A good thermometer
A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
A sturdy bowl or pot to hold the curds for heating and stretching to save your hands from the hot curds and water.
A wooden spoon
Another pot for heating water. This does not need to be stainless steel.
As much salt as you would like in your cheese. Normally I like about 1/2 tsp but it is not essential to the process as in other cheeses and Yes, you can make this salt free.
Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.
|You can make a larger or smaller amount of Mozzarella by increasing or decreasing the ingredients above.|
I will also include several control variables through the recipe to provide an option for a drier or moister cheese.
Acidifying and heating the milk:
Begin by heating the milk to 100F (38C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats
Once the milk is at this target temperature, the culture can be added (from list above). To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in. The milk will need to ripen for 60 minutes before adding the rennet.
Coagulation with rennet:
Then add the rennet indicated in the list above and stir slowly top to bottom for about 30 seconds.
The milk now needs to set undisturbed for 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet helps form the curd. Keep the milk at the 100F during this period, preferably using a sink or water bath of warm water. It can not be heated on a stove top because of the curd formation.
Cutting curds and releasing the whey:
During the next 20 minutes cut the curd at 2 inch intervals and then make the same cut spacing at right angles to the first cut. Allow this to rest 5 minutes then break the rest of the curd into walnut or hazelnut sized pieces (1" - 1/2" ). The smaller the pieces the more whey will be released and the drier the cheese. This is your first control point in determining the final result.
Cooking the curds :
After cutting and a brief stir, allow the curds to settle to the bottom of the pot for 1 hour. A brief stir every 5-10 minutes just to keep the curds separate will retain the most moisture. For a drier cheese, a more frequent-constant stir will cause more whey to be released. The temperature may even be increased to 106-108F for more moisture removal.
Removing the whey:
The dry curds and whey can now be transferred to a colander or cheese mold to form into a consolidated curd mass. The whey is allowed to run off and may be collected for other uses. This whey is sweet enough to make into Ricotta since the acid has not been fully produced yet.
Ripening the curds:
At this point it is essential to keep the curds warm because the bacteria is now producing the acid that is so important for a good stretching Mozzarella. The easiest way is to place both curd and the colander or form back into the empty pot and keep this in a sink of warm water to keep the curd at 96-100F.
Once the curd is resting quietly, fill the extra pot with water (about a gallon or so) and bring it to a simmer to be used for the hot water stretch. Traditionally this was done with the whey already heated from the Ricotta making process but water works fine.
Allow the curds to ripen in the warmth for about another 2 hours then begin testing for the stretch. Cut a small piece of curd from the large curd mass and place it in a cup of the hot water tempered to about 180F. Allow this to sit for a few minutes and remove from the hot water. If it stretches, then you are ready for the final hot water stretching phase. If not, continue the warm rest for another 15-20 minutes and repeat the test until you see a good stretch. The stretch should be about 2-3 times the original length of the sample without breaking.
This is where we all get to be kids again! Have fun with it but not too much.
- Once the curds show that they are stretching, the curd mass is placed on a cutting board and chopped into 1/2-1" cubes and placed in the bowl or pot for heating and stretching.
- The hot water is then added. Initially, about 2-3 cups are added by pouring at the edge of the curds (not directly on them) and the wooden spoon is used to gently move them around for heating. Gradually they will begin losing their shape and melding (not melting) into a smooth mass. If this is not happening after 3-5 minutes add another 2 -3 cups of hot water until you see the curd mass forming into a stretching mass.
- With the wooden spoon you can begin the stretch by lifting this curd mass and allowing it to stretch from its own weight. If the curd mass begins to cool and the stretch becomes less, add more hot water. After doing this a few times and the curd begins to look like taffy, you can lift the curds while turning the spoon and winding into a smooth mass.
- At this point you can dump the water and give the stretching curd a few of long pulls, folding it back on itself and the finally rolling it all into a ball. Be careful to not get too carried away with this because it is a lot of fun but you could dry out the cheese excessively if overdone.
During this stretch is a good time to add the salt as per your preferences or any other additions to your Mozzarella. If you want to make one of those amazing Prosciutto rolls this would be the time to do that as well.
- For the final form I find it easiest to break the mass into 2 smaller balls (about 1 lb. each) because they are easier to handle. Now, hold the warm Mozzarella with thumb and forefinger of one hand using the other hand from underneath to push the curd up inside itself. Continue working the curd in this manner until the ball of cheese becomes smooth and shiny.
This will really make more sense looking at the photos below.
Chilling and finishing:
Now it is just about finished. Drop the curd into a small draining mold to hold the shape and place the form and cheese into a very cold pot of water to chill and hold its shape. During the winter I just set it all outdoors. An hour or so of this and it is ready to be eaten or wrapped and kept in the fridge for a day or so.
There is not much to say on this because it should not be kept that long unless you are making a drier style Mozzarella. I simply wrap mine in a breathable Saran Wrap and keep it in the fridge for a day or so.
Now, this might just be the best tip on this page. For those who really love Mozzarella, you can make a huge batch of the curd mass, cut it into single use (1 lb) portions and freeze it. When ready for more fresh Mozzarella, just place the frozen portion in the fridge to thaw overnight and the next day heat up the water for stretching and Voila .. Fresh Mozzarella.
You should know that most of those shops that sell the fresh Mozzarella do exactly that. They buy the frozen curds in bulk then thaw and heat for the finished fresh Mozzarella every day.
Changes for varying Mozzarella stylesI have included this guide below to help you in changing the process to get just the right type of Mozzarella for you.
Very Soft as in Deli Style Mozzarella
Temperature can be reduced to 86-90F and a mixed meso/thermo culture such as MA4002 can be used , curds cut larger to 1-1.5 inches
*Medium for slicing etc
As per recipe above
Firm for pizza .. a great cooking/melting cheese
Curds can be cut smaller to 1/2 inch and the temperature can be increased to 104-106F. Stirring can be extended to increase whey removal
Here the milk is heated, the culture is added and allowed to ripen for 1 hour before the rennet is added**.
Save some time: In the second photo I have included a little trick to speed up your cheesemaking.
Before setting up and heating the milk, take about 2 cups of the milk and heat to 108F (optimum for the thermophilic) then add your culture to this and stir it in well. Note the time you do this and allow this to set at this ripening temp for the indicated time.
Then carry on with your set up and milk heating which should take the better part of the hour and when the full milk is heated to your working temp and the ripening time for the mini starter has elapsed, just add it to the full batch and you have saved about an hour in time. **You can move right into the rennet addition.
You can do this with any cheese, just make sure the culture and milk stay proportionate.
The curds now come together in a consolidated mass and the beginning of the stretch is seen. I first lift the curds using the wooden spoon and allow them to stretch under their own weight. I do this several times and then allow the curds to stretch around the wooden spoon as I turn it. In Italy this was traditionally done with a long wooden paddle used in a large curd vat. Today it is done by machines. Not quite so romantic or aesthetic but it does do a great job of it.
Finally as the stretching curds smooth out, I dump the hot water and do the final stretch by hand to get the smooth shiny texture of Mozzarella. It is simply a long stretch and the folding back on itself several times. This stretch is also what gives the Mozzarella that nice texture when you bite into it. Here is where I add the salt as well, just before the final stretch.
For the final form, the curd is then rolled into a ball and then working from underneath, the curd is pushed inside itself and the top surface stretches smoothly forming a nice smooth ball of cheese. If you have ever seen a good pizza dough prep, this is much the same way, the curd is pushed in from below and at the same time the top surface is stretched over this. Finally the opening at the bottom is pinched off with the resulting perfect shiny globe of Mozzarella.
So that's my story on making a traditional Mozzarella.
Now I think this deserves a nice home made beer
with some of that yummy stretchy Mozzarella
heated on a cracker for lunch.
Life is good!
|Hearing about your wonderful cheese making adventures always brightens up our day. Please feel free to send us stories and maybe even a photo to: