Weekend Project: Make Your Own Mozzarella!

As I write this post, I'm having a hard time resisting the ball of mozzarella sitting next to me in a bowl of ice water. My fingers keep pinching off little pieces and popping them in my mouth while I'm trying to decipher my whey-splattered notes. Needless to say, this experiment in cheese-making was an undisputed success!
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I ended up ordering "Ricki's Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit" for my cheese-making starter kit. Included in the package is everything you see above (clockwise from left): a recipe booklet, citric acid to help separate the curds and whey, cheese salt for seasoning, vegetarian rennet tablets to coagulate the proteins into curds, cheese cloth, and a thermometer (not pictured).

I started off by dissolving 1/4 of a table of rennet in 1/4 cup of water, and in a separate bowl, dissolving the citric acid in 1 cup of water. I set the rennet aside for later, and combined the citric acid solution and milk in a 6 quart dutch oven (it needs to be a non-reactive pan).

Stirring slowly, I heated the milk and citric acid up to 90-degrees - this took about 5 minutes. Off the heat, I added the rennet, stirred the mixture, and let it sit for 5 minutes. I didn't feel like my curds were solid enough, so I let it sit for another 5 minutes as the instructions suggest. You can see how solid they became in the pictures below; it felt like cutting through very soft tofu.

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The neat squares of curd fell apart as I scooped them out of the whey, as you can see in the left-hand picture below. I wasn't sure if this to be expected, but it didn't seem to make a difference in the end. After separating the curds, I microwaved them for a minute. More whey separated out, and the curds were noticeably firmer. The picture on the right shows the cheese after it was microwaved. At this point, it felt spongy and wet, but held together in a solid mass.
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I microwaved the cheese twice more, stirring and then kneading in between. Once the cheese registered 130-degrees, I turned it onto the counter and kneaded until it was smooth and shiny (below, left). This only took a few minutes and the cheese cooled rapidly as I worked with it. While it's still warm, you can roll it into small individual balls, braid it, or shape it into a log. Once it's cooled in an ice bath, the cheese will hold it's shape.
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The fresh cheese is delicious - as our pinching fingers can attest! It's softer and more springy than the store-bought mozzarella I've had. The flavor is rich and mild - I can't wait to experiment with using other kinds of milk and adding ingredients like dried herbs and flavored salts. We'll be enjoying it in sandwiches and on pizza later this weekend.

This first time making cheese felt a little awkward. There were discrepancies between the instructions in the packet and instructions on Ricki's website, but I feel that making this cheese is fool-proof enough that it didn't make a huge difference in the end. Now that I've made it once, I feel that I can - and will! - confidently make it again.

Ready to try your hand at cheese making?! What questions or advice do you have?

• The 30-Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheesemaking Kit is $24.95 from New England Ceesemaking Supply Company. The alternate instructions are under the "More Information" tab on the order page.

Related: DIY Recipe: Homemade Paneer Cheese

(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)