A week ago I tried making homemade mozzarella cheese, using milk bought at the local grocery store. The results didn’t come together – literally. Analyzing it, I figured it was either due to an insufficient amount of rennet, the enzyme that helps the proteins in the milk coagulate, or else it was due to the milk being pasteurized at too high a heat. Undaunted, I wanted to try again and learn how to do this.
While I originally put more weight in theory that the pasteurization was the cause, now that I look back on what I’ve learned, I suspect the insufficient rennet was probably more likely the problem. But hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.
In the wake of my first attempt, a German-Thai friend suggested I try buying milk from Murrah Dairy, the only water buffalo dairy in Thailand. Great idea, especially considering that the original Italian mozzarella is mozzarella di bufala – buffalo milk mozzarella. So I ended up driving to their retail store and bought five litres of raw buffalo milk. The best way to address the pasteurization issue is to use unpasteurized milk, right?
Sadly, I don’t have many pictures of the second attempt. You’re welcome to watch the video and/or read the description below.
After sanitizing everything in the kitchen, I started heating the milk. One challenge I encountered was that my recipe is in imperial measurements but the dairy sold the milk in metric measurements. Being an American (even a fairy metric-savvy one) I made a few errors in calculation and initially thought I was working with two gallons of milk, when in fact I had only about one gallon. Because of this, I prepared citric acid and rennet solutions that were twice as strong as necessary.
Thankfully, I realized this before adding the solutions into the milk, and added only about half of each solution. The proteins came together much more nicely than in the first attempt, although they still didn’t have the nearly-solid, soft tofu-like consistency shown in the recipe’s pictures. I strained the curds from the whey and ended up with a pretty nice mass to work with.
My next problem came from a lack of understanding of what was meant to happen in the next step. As a learner, it is helpful for me to know not only what a particular step is but the rationale behind the step. The recipe told me to either microwave the curds and then knead them, or else to put the curds in hot water (about 170 F) and use a spoon to fold them together, then pull them out and knead them.
The problem was two-fold. First, I don’t have a microwave. There goes the easy option. Second, I was hesitant to put the curds in the water because I thought they would just dissolve. Knowing what I know now, I realize that the whole point of microwaving or putting them in the water is that the cheese begins to melt a bit, helping it form more elasticky strands that you can knead. No heat and no melting means no kneading.
Before I figured this out, I tried placing the curds, still in the cheesecloth, above some boiling water – kind of a bain-marie. This resulted in the bottom of the curds melting into the cheesecloth, while the tops of the curds didn’t change. Finally, I figured it out and put the curds into the water and used a spoon to shape them.
Of course, I didn’t have rubber gloves, so kneading the hot cheese was a little painful! Long story short, having a microwave would have been a huge help.
In the end, I wound up with a ball of mozzarella that was a bit tough and overworked, not nearly as elastic as it should be, and it had picked up a little bit of a greyish cast, possibly from the bread board I was using to knead it on. Also, cleanup was a pain as the curds cling to everything, especially the metal utensils!
The important question is, how did it taste?
Well, after a few hours soaking in a brine/whey solution, the cheese turned out okay. I used it on a pizza in a taste test, half of the pizza covered with my cheese and half with the Murrah Dairy’s cheese. My cheese was much more rubbery and not as bright white, but it actually tasted fine, like real mozzarella cheese.
Conclusion: This is a product that is probably worth buying in the store, even if it is a bit pricey. Making it is very time and effort consuming. That said, I’m kind of curious to try another time using store-bought milk, just to confirm my new understanding that the pasteurization wasn’t the issue. I still like the idea of making my own cheese, and if I had an opportunity to apprentice with a cheese-maker, I would jump at it. But the constraints of my Bangkok condo kitchen are such that I don’t think I’ll become a regular cheese-maker.
Okay, what’s the next thing to try?