How To: Make Fresh Mozzarella

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I've said it before and I'll say it again; I'm obsessed with cheese. I eat it, I buy it, I sample it (anyone else circling Whole Foods every Saturday morning?), I dream about it, I crave it, I cook with it, and now...I make it.

I've already mastered homemade ricotta, so it was only fair that I give mozzarella a try. This cheese takes a bit of practice, but once you get it just right, you'll be in heaven. Creamy, milky, soft, salty - perfect.

Here's how to make it:

You'll need: 6-8 qt stainless steel pot Thermometer that reads clearly between 80-120 degrees F Long sharp knife Large glass bowl Stainless steel slotted spoon

Ingredients: 1 gallon milk* 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid (can be found in most specialty or health food stores) 1/4 rennet tablet, crushed and dissolved in 1/4 cup of cold water (tablets can be found in most specialty food stores) Salt *Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk. The high temperature at which it is processed makes it unusable in cheese-making. I use store-bought whole milk, but check here for tips and questions about using other kinds of milk.

Make It: Clean and prepare work surface.

Pour milk in stainless steel pot and gently heat on low. When milk is around 50 degrees, stir in citric acid and slowly heat mixture to 88-90 degrees. The milk will begin to curdle. If is not curdling properly, heat to 95 degrees. This should take about 10 minutes.

Remove pot from burner and slowly add rennet mixture, stirring continuously for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes (for moist cheese) as the curds continue to separate from the whey. The mixture should look like custard, with a clear separation of curds and whey. The texture of the cheese will depend on how long you let the curds set, for slightly drier cheese, try letting it set another 5-10 minutes.

When the curds have set, run a sharp knife through them both horizontally and vertically to cut into cubes. You should be able to make a clean break with the knife. Make sure to cut completely through to bottom of the pot.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the cubes of curd from the pot and into a large glass bowl. Drain the bowl of any excess whey.

Microwave bowl on high for one minute and remove. Drain excess whey, pressing down on the cheese to remove as much as possible. Repeat process another 1-2 times. A double boiler can also be used for this step.

When cool enough to handle, quickly begin kneading and stretching the cheese, pulling it and letting it it fall onto itself. Continue kneading and stretching until cheese is smooth and shiny. If it is difficult to stretch and breaks easily, dip it in reheated excess whey and re-stretch. When you can stretch it like taffy, you are done. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Form cheese into a ball and place in bowl of ice water to cool. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate or serve it immediately.

Use your fresh mozzarella on a homemade Margherita pizza, as the star of a Caprese salad, in a pesto & grilled chicken sandwich, or just straight up eat it.

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