Stretchy Secrets – Pasta Filata Cheeses

Fine fibers created by hand stretching, Ochoa Cheese, Oregon

Fine fibers created by hand stretching for Asadero type cheese at Ochoa Cheese, Oregon

If your Quick Mozzarella doesn’t always turn out perfectly, despite many recipe’s suggesting that it is “so easy”, stop blaming yourself! Stretched curd cheeses, often referred to by their Italian name of “pasta filata”, depend upon some pretty precise chemistry occurring in order to turn out well. In this article I have extracted a bit of what I cover in an entire chapter in my book “Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking” on the subject of stretched curd cheeses. I have included three recipes, from Quick to Long.

The Chemistry of Stretching

Before curd can stretch there must be specific changes in the protein structure. For those changes to occur, the curd must reach the magic pH level of about 5.2. Through the development of acid, calcium is removed from the protein structures, allowing for the formation of the right kind of protein network for stretching. (You can read more about how calcium and other minerals interact with acid in chapters 1 and 3 of my book.) To successfully make these cheeses, you need to be able to monitor the development of acid. A pH meter is the easiest method, but I’ll be telling you how to perform a stretch test on your curd that will tell you the same thing (this is the way they did it in “the old days”).

Stretched curd cheeses are heated in hot whey or a water before they are stretched. In addition to getting the curd to the right temperature at which the protein structure can begin to elongate and move, this high-heat treatment essentially (but not by legal definition) pasteurizes these cheeses. Any culture remaining will be killed as well—one more reason it is important to be sure to have the proper acid development before you try to stretch the curd. Some of the coagulant used will be deactivated, too, causing changes in the breakdown of protein during aging. But the enzymes remaining from the starter culture should provide plenty of protein breakdown power if you are making an aged version of this type of cheese.

Let’s go over the two main approaches to making these cheeses – the quick, added acid method and the long, traditional method. You can also combine the two, as Christy Harris has done in the recipe she provided for my book. If you are making a variety that you want to age, go for the traditional approach!

Why Quick Recipes aren’t always Simple

Quick, easy recipes for mozzarella rely upon the addition of a food acid, almost always citric acid, at the right level to lower the milk pH to the magic 5.2 range. If the milk starts out at a different pH than usual, though, and your measurements are not precise (frankly measuring with a teaspoon is never that exact) then you may end up with a pH above or below the needed level. Too low or too high and the curd won’t stretch. Because the acid is added when the milk is still a liquid, you can’t perform the old fashion stretch test that I am going to tell you about in a bit to determine if the acid level is perfect, but you can use pH strips or a pH meter.  Still, these recipes works more often than not and you can increase your odds of success by weighing the calcium chloride and then keeping a good record of the results.

While many quick mozzarella recipes call for using a microwave to heat the curd, skip this approach and use the whey. It is just as easy, in my opinion, and less messy, more accurate, and better for the curd. Microwave ovens rarely, if ever, heat the curd evenly. Even heating is quite important to the process.

You can make quick mozzarella with any type of milk- cow, goat, or sheep. Pasteurized is fine, but not ultra-pasteurized (as many of the proteins have been damaged and will not allow the curd to form and/or stretch). Quick mozzarella cannot be aged, since there are no starter bacteria cultures to protect and enhance the cheese during aging. So plan on using it quickly (perhaps that is what the name actually refers to!) If held in the fridge for a few days, even easy recipes will take on lovely melting qualities for pizza cheese. If you want to keep it soft and tender, you can store it in a bit of whey in the fridge. If the cheese becomes too soft or mushy when stored this way, add a bit of salt and calcium chloride to the whey next time. (more on that at the end of this post)

Traditional Pasta Filata Methods

Queso Oaxaca by Ochoa Cheese

A beautiful skein made by Ochoa Cheese

Mozzarella, Provolone, Caciocavallo, and Queso Oaxaca are just a few of the cheeses made using the pasta filata techniques. Very few commercially available versions are still made by hand, but you can find a few stalwart artisans carrying on these traditions today. If you have made traditional cheddar cheese, prepare to be surprised at how similar the process is, except for the stretching. It is believed that the Britons learned the many of the processes of cheddar making by watching the Roman invaders make mozzarella type cheeses.

Traditional pasta filata cheeses develop the right amount of acid after a long ripening period, partially in the whey and partially after the curd is drained and kept warm. When the goal pH nears (or you think it is almost ready) a stretch test should be done. A piece of curd is heated in hot whey or water and tested for its ability to stretch. After heating the chunk, fold it in on itself a few times, observing the texture. If it folds easily, heat it again and fold again. Then heat a third time and try pulling the piece away from itself. If ready, it will stretch into a long, thin strand.  At this point the rest of the curd can be stretch or cooled and frozen for future shaping. (In some parts of the country you can buy curd ready to stretch).

Some recipes use Mesophilic cultures, others Thermophilic and still others a combination of bacteria. Old world recipes often use raw milk and rennet paste (producing a sharp, piquant flavor). Lipase can be added to help emulate this more complex flavor profile.

Stretching Tips

When using the whey from making traditional and hybrid mozzarella, it is a good idea to first heat the whey until the proteins left in the whey precipitate out of the liquid, usually at about 185F. Skim these delicious real ricotta curds off of the top with a sieve and drain. Then let the whey cool to 175-180 for stretching the curd.

Hand stretching at Ochoa Cheese, Albany, Oregon

Hand stretching is extremely physical and requires deftness and care, here cheesemakers at Ochoa Cheese work the curd like pros.

When the curd is ready to stretch, it is a good idea to cut it into small chunks before heating, as this will help heat it evenly. I suggest using a small strainer basket or sieve to lower the curd into the hot whey. When beginning to work the curd, use gentle folding motions, bending the sides in towards the back of the mass (if you have ever made a loaf of bread, the motions are almost identical). At any time when the curd becomes too cool to move easily, reheat it! When the mass is shiny, usually after a couple of rounds of folding and heating, then it is ready to shape. If you are making “string” cheese or a skein (as with queso Oaxaca or queso asedero) then put the curd through several stretching sessions to continually elongate and align the protein networks. When the final shape has been attained, cool the cheese in water. Salt can be added to the heating water and/or the cooling water.

Stretched Curd Cheese Recipes

Quick and Simple Mozzarella

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1 ½ tsp citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup cool water
  • ¼ tsp calcium chloride dissolved in ¼ cup cool water
  • 1/8 tsp double strength rennet dissolved in ¼ cup cool, non-chlorinated water
  • Salt
  1. Combine milk, citric acid solution, and calcium chloride solution.
  2. Warm milk to 90 F, stirring evenly.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in rennet solution with an up and down motion. Still the milk, cover and let set for 5 minutes until curd is well gelled.
  4. Cut the curd into ½ inch pieces let set for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir and heat the curd to 105 F over 5-10 minutes or until curd starts to feel somewhat “plastic” or gooey.
  6. Place a colander over a pot and pour curds into it, reserving the whey. Cover curds.
  7. Heat whey to 175-180F.
  8. Cut up curd mass into 1 inch chunks then lower them in 1-2 cup amounts into hot whey.
  9. Stretch, following stretching tips earlier.

Hybrid Method Mozzarella

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1/16 tsp TA 60, 1/16 tsp MM OR 1/8 tsp MA 4000
  • ¼ tsp calcium chloride diluted in 1/8 cup water (optional)
  • ¼ – ½ tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/8 cup water
  • 1/8 tsp double strength rennet diluted in 1/8 cup water
  • Salt


  • 1.      Warm ½ gallon of the milk to 96F
  • 2.      Add cultures, let set for 5 minutes then stir well for 3-5 minutes
  • 3.      Add calcium chloride solution (optional)
  • 4.      Maintain at 96 F and ripen for one hour, goal pH is about 6.2
  • 5.      Combine citric acid mixture with the other ½ gallon of milk and warm to 96F, goal pH about 6.0
  • 6.      Combine two milk mixtures, goal pH about 6.1
  • 7.      Verify temperature is 96F and add rennet solution stirring with an up and down motion for about 15-30 seconds
  • 8.      Still the milk and let set for 30 minutes or until ready to cut
  • 9.      Cut into 3/8 inch chunks, rest 5 minutes
  • 10.  Gently stir and heat to 115F over 30 minutes.
  • 11.  Turn off heat and let settle for 5 minutes
  • 12.  Pour off the whey (saving) and pour curds into cloth lined colander. Set over the drained whey, cover, and keep curds at 102F, turning mass every 30 minutes, until curd passes the stretch test (described earlier).
  • 13.  Heat whey to 180F and follow stretching directions


Traditional Style for Aging

  • 2 gallons milk
  • 1/8 plus teaspoon  Thermo B
  • ½ tsp calcium chloride diluted in 1/8 cup cool water (optional)
  • 1/16 teaspoon double strength rennet diluted in 1/8 cup cool water
  • salt
  1. Warm milk to 80F and sprinkle cultures on top. Let set 5 minutes. Stir well.
  2. Increase temperature to 90F and hold for one hour.
  3. Stir in calcium chloride if using.
  4. Stir in rennet solution with an up and down motion for one minute. Still milk and let set quietly until clean break is achieved. Goal coagulation time is 45 minutes.
  5. Cut curd into 3/8 – ½ inch chunks, rest 5 minutes
  6. Stir gently and heat slowly to 95-98F over 15 minutes. Then stir and heat to 118F over 30 more minutes. Hold at 118F, stirring occasionally to keep from matting, until curd pH is 6.0. This may take 60-90 minutes.
  7. Drain the curds (saving whey) in a colander. Cover colander and place over warm pot, keeping the curd temperature at about 102-104 F.
  8. Turn curd mass every 30-45 minutes until curd pH is about 5.2 or when curd passes stretch test.
  9. Heat whey to 180F, add a pinch of salt and follow stretching directions. Curd can also be chilled and saved to stretch later (it can also be frozen).


Quick versions of mozzarella can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, but will not age safely. They are best used fresh! The traditional method can be used fresh, stored in a light brine made from whey, smoked, and aged. The hybrid method can also be aged, but will likely be a little less complex do to less bacterial activity.

Storing in whey/brine:

  • Mix one quart of filtered (through cloth) whey left over after stretching with an 1/8 teaspoon of salt. This  amount can be adjusted depending upon if you salted the whey during stretching or the water during chilling. The saltier they mixture, the more firm the cheese will be, so if you want it tender, you may want to omit the salt completely.
  • Immerse small balls or discs of fresh mozzarella in the solution. A ziplock type bag can be used – squeeze the extra air out of the bag so that moisture surrounds the balls. This method requires less liquid.
  • If the liquid becomes cloudy or the cheese starts getting soggy or soft, you probably need to add a bit of calcium chloride to the brine. Try about ¼ teaspoon per quart. Adjust up if the cheese continues to soften and less if the cheese becomes too firm.

25 thoughts on “Stretchy Secrets – Pasta Filata Cheeses

  1. Mozzarella is my nemesis, if one could have a cheese arch enemy, I have more failures than success, thanks for posting this. I have always heard that Calcium Chloride was bad for quick mozzarella, next time I will try adding it.

    • Just so you don’t feel too badly, I was making curd today – to take to the class I am teaching on Sat – and the pH went WAY quicker than it should have and ended up at 4.85, and of course, wouldn’t stretch. It is a tricky cheese!
      Adding CaCl2 may or may not help the quick version.

  2. Gianaclis, you are a rock star in the cheese world…I have all your books and read everything I can by you…I am a small farmstead creamery in Alamos, Sonora Mexico about 8 hrs from Tucson. I have nubian goats and jersey cows and some mixed simental cows…someday I will
    make it to oregon!

  3. so, is this why i HAD mozz rocks?? i did find another answer for said quick cheese, just give a busy gurl some time & she will come up with some easy answer, not a chemist’s answer like you have, but i get what you are saying… any answers as to why we can’t get ricotta to set up???

    thank you for all you do,

    miss you ,


  4. I have decided it is not worth it to make pasta filata cheeses to sell although I do a batch here and there just because folks are always asking for it. I have no problem with getting the cheese made correctly – It just takes way too much time to stretch and shape in any quantity. If you have any suggestions on streamlining the stretch I would love to hear

  5. ironically I just received a message from a chef who buys from me and he wants….. mozzarella. I may do some for him but only if it is a few pounds at a time. Equipment sounds nice but in my little farmstead creamery space is tight and new pieces must have value across the entire spectrum of cheeses

  6. I have made the traditional mozza several times, and though each time the flavor was quite good, the texture was much more like mozza for grating on pizza. Today I did the hybrid method, and I have a success story for a lovely caprese salad! Thank you!! Now if I could just figure out, why?!

  7. I am making several cheeses from your book including greek feta and pasta filata by the “traditional method” that you also include above. I am using 2X vegetable rennet and have used both thermophilic mother that I made from a starter pack and direct set. I believe I am doing everything according to the directions but in each case, the curd formation has taken 3-4 times as long as mentioned. I have only an inexpensive pH meter but it seems to be reasonably reliable and it is telling me that the milk (commercial pasteurized milk from the supermarket) starts at a pH closer to 7 than 6 and I am finding the acidity takes a very long time to develop both at the initial stages and during the aging for stretching. At first I suspected the quality of the mother I made but now I am having the same problem with direct set. I am wondering what your suggestions would be to correct this problem. I should add that I love your book and, as a scientist, I really appreciate the technical sophistication.

    • Hi Curt, I believe the problem is the milk and it’s high pH. What I would suggest trying is adding some mesophilic culture and ripening it first that way until the pH is about 6.5. If you cannot check pH that accurately, try it anyway and see if it helps. Many of these traditional recipes (which is what I used) are designed for fresh, raw milk that has a decent amount of its own mesophilic bacteria and is also in better shape for ripening. The book is in its second printing and I made a few changes to that recipe to try to address this problem. You aren’t the first one to have it! Thank you for your comment and let me know if this helps. If you do FB, you can message me easily on my author page.

  8. Hi, will be possible to have a video of the making of the pasta filata cheeses?. I’ve tried three times using the recipes from the book but the curd never gets as shown in the book. In spite of a PH reading of 5.2 over a couple of hours, as soon as I put the curd in the hot whey, the curd melts away!!. The texture of the curd is somewhat crumbly, is not as smooth as in the book. I am using Raw Cow Milk (but I also tried with Organic Pasteurized milk), Thermophilic culture and Animal rennet. I also tried the hybrid method yesterday without success. So far, the only way it works is with the quick 30-minute method. Perhaps a video or more pictures will help me to spot where I might have the error. Thanks.

  9. I am sorry you are having so much trouble! Send me an email and we’ll go over the details and possibilities. We can post our results here, but since it could take some back and forth, let’s do it first via email. gianaclis at gmail .com no spaces, of course!

  10. Hi, recently I bought your book and I think this is the best book for cheese-making. I am sure one can find an answer for almost every question if he reads carefully. I have problems making caciocavallo and kashkaval from goat milk. Initially the milk pH is 6.5 ( at least my pH measures this). I use raw whole milk from a local farmer. After following all steps I leaving the curd for more than one day and the pH is 6.0. Of course the stretching is not possible. I use Bulgarian yogurt as a starter culture. I wonder is it needed to wait few days to reach the goal pH of 5.1-5.3 or there is something special with the goat milk? The temperature in the room is approx. 18C (65F) or less. Maybe I have to maintain a higher temperature? Thank you again for the good book and thank you in advance if have possibility to give me a hint.

    • Hi there, I am glad you like the book!
      I would definitely suggest switching to a different culture, the yogurt culture needs temperatures that are much warmer than used in ripening milk for mozzarella. Try buttermilk, if you don’t want to buy any powdered cultures. You most certainly don’t want to wait more than the make day to get to the right pH or other things will have grown that could be harmful!

      Goat milk will make pasta filata cheeses, but it can be tricky just due to the time of year. A start pH of 6.5 is a little low, indicating that maybe the milk wasn’t chilled fast enough to prevent a little of the native lactic acid bacteria from doing a bit of fermentation. It should be closer to 6.6 when you start.

      Give it a try again with the buttermilk and let me know what happens!

    • Hi, sorry for my late answer but I had no access to milk. Recently I tried again. Unfortunately we don’t have buttermilk in Bulgaria. All recipes for Kaskaval that I find here are using Bulgarian yogurt as starter culture. This time I tried it in June so I think this is OK. I tried again and after I left the curds at higher temperature for 3-4 hours I was able to read pH 5.2. Again the stretching was not possible. I ordered now Flora Danica but now I am going to try you Gouda recipe. Recently I was reading the Ricki Carol book and there is recipe for goat milk provolone. There she writes:
      “The stage of lactation at which goat’s milk is produced has a significant effect on whether the curd stretches as it is supposed to. Milk produced early in a doe’s lactation makes a curd that stretches beautifully; later in the season, however, the curd will stop stretching. Therefore, varying amounts of citric acid are added to milk produced at different times during lactation. Too much citric acid makes a curd that stretches like a dream but never quite becomes solid — this happens with early-lactation milk. Too little citric acid makes a curd that is unstretchable — this happens with late-lactation milk. Early in the lactation season, add 1 teaspoon of citric acid per gallon of milk. As lactation progresses, increase it in ⅛-teaspoon increments up to 2 teaspoons per gallon. For flavor, the following recipe uses a thermophilic culture, as well as citric acid. Do not use calcium chloride in this recipe, because it will prevent your cheese from stretching.”
      I think my problem is the calcium chloride or I need citric acid. Next time I try it I will inform you about the results.

  11. Sure thing, it kind of depends on the milk – not whether it is raw or not, but how much calcium phosphate it has. For example, some goats don’t have as much alpha s1 casein and therefore not as much Ca Phos. You might need a bit of calcium chloride for that. Pasta filata cheeses need to lose a decent amount of Ca Phos during the make so that they will stretch. So it’s a matter of trying it without the CaCl2 and seeing if it works. I hope that makes sense!

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