Not all cheese is fermented, and the type that we were going to make, fresh mozzarella, would not be fermented. But since we were all novices to cheesemaking, we considered this exercise but a first step to more and greater fermentation in our cheese-futures to come.
Second step, study the recipe and lay out all our ingredients, milk and rennet being primary.
Supposedly, the very best way to make a superior fresh mozzarella is to use raw, unpasturized milk. But we just weren't ready to do that, with a group of us all being responsible for each other's health. We also did not have a personal source, and grocery store raw milk is quite expensive, comparatively. So we settled on a nice fresh gallon of regular milk and got started.
Some citric acid was needed to curdle the milk. I grew up baking things, and often the recipe called for buttermilk, which wasn't always in the fridge when you needed it. So we were used to curdling fresh milk with a couple teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice. But citric acid will to the same thing, but without leaving its own flavor. After adding the acid, the temperature needed to be brought up to exactly 90 degrees.
I used to trust my instant-read thermometer above all my thermometers. And then one day I proofed all my kitchen thermometers with boiling water and was shocked to find out how much off some of them were, even my esteemed instant-read! So I always advise proofing thermometers when every degree counts. Water boils at 212 degrees at sea level, so you can use that standard.
Time to add the rennet! We used vegetable rennet, but when I go to buy my own stock, I'll probably get the original stuff made from calves stomachs. Gentle mixing for 30 seconds, and then let it rest for 5 min. The instructions are to: Put the lid on! Don't touch the pan! Walk away! Live your life for exactly five minutes! So I'm assuming that part is petty important.
Now it was starting to get fun. With a long knife, we cut the soft curd into a one inch checkerboard pattern. After heating up the mixture again slightly, we used a slotted spoon to transfer the curds into a colander. A this point, the main goal at hand was to get the whey out of the way.
Swirling and folding, squeezing and kneading, heating it up for brief periods in the microwave, these all helped to make a nice firm texture and let the liquid leak out of the curd. When it was done, we formed it into little balls and dropped them into cold water.
It was very delicious!
It shouldn't be surprising that there wasn't really very much of it. Even though milk has enough of a fluid consistency that you can actually pour it and drink it out of a glass, for some reason, I still expected more solids in our little glass cheese bowl and less in the jug of leftover whey. It would feel more efficient if I had a use at hand for the whey, but I haven't come up with one yet. So I don't think it would be especially cost economical to make it, if you are looking at the rubbery mozzarella balls you get for making lasagne or pizza. But if you want a hand-crafted treat covered with herbs and olive oil, or a lovely Caprese salad, then I suggest you try it. Plus, it really is fun!
If you want to follow the recipe we used, here is the link. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2012/07/making-fresh-mozzarella/