Who doesn’t love fresh, squeaky cheese curds? Plain, slathered with pesto, deep fried, or with fries and gravy as poutine, cheddar curds are fun and delicious. But making them usually involves half the day, and who has time for that? In this recipe, I have shortened up a few of the steps, the result is tasty, satisfying, and a real crowd pleaser.
If you can, use creamtop, non-homogenized milk for the best results. Pasteurized, homogenized grocery store milk works as well, but the texture of the curds won’t be quite as firm and squeaky.
1 gallon whole milk (goat or cow)
1 cup fresh, cultured buttermilk (if purchased, buy one with the longest expiration date to ensure that the bacteria are still active)
1/4 tsp. double strength (or 1/2 tsp single strength) rennet
Combine milk and buttermilk in a stainless steel pot.
Place on direct heat and warm, stirring constantly to 95 F
Turn off or remove from heat
Add rennet diluted in 2 TB cool non chlorinated water
Let set for 10-15 minutes until just pulling away from the sides or firm when pulled away
Cut into 3/8 to ¼ inch pieces then let rest for 5 minutes
Stir very gently for 5 minutes at 95 F
Begin to increase heat very slowly over 15 minutes to reach 102 F
Pour curds into cloth lined colander and tie in a bundle
Cover and keep curd at 100 F for 10 minutes
Cut slab into two pieces , stack, cover and keep warm, use a plastic bag filled with 100F hot water to help keep th
Turn every 10 minutes until chicken breast texture is achieved (about 1 hour)
Cut slabs into ½ to 1 inch long by ¼ to ½ inch wide pieces.
Place in colander over hot whey and sprinkle with ½ tsp salt. Stir then cover with hot water bag for 5 min. (mellowing)
Repeat salting and mellowing one more time.
The curds are ready to eat as soon as the salting is completed. They can be bagged and stored, but will lose their squeak after a day or so. They can also be frozen and thawed to enjoy later. Yum!
Lasagna Cheese – All in one pot recipe for Mozzarella and Ricotta
While writing an article for Culture magazine on how to make Burrata, I realized how easy it is to make both quick mozzarella and ricotta at the same time, literally within one hour. An email from a reader mentioned that it was her goal to make all of the ingredients for lasagna, so I put this recipe together for anyone out there who has wanted to do the same. This works great for traditional lasagna as well as spaghetti squash, eggplant, or gluten free noodles.I am giving directions using store bought milk, simply to address the availability for most, but any good quality milk will work. We, of course, use our goat milk. Enjoy!
Ingredients and Equipment
1 gallon whole, pasteurized milk
1 ½ teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1/8 cup cold, non-chlorinated water
1/8 teaspoon double strength rennet mixed into 1/8 cup cold, non-chlorinated water
1 Tablespoon salt
Heavy bottomed stainless steel pot
Large pot for water bath
Large skimmer ladle
Cheesecloth or butter muslin
Large bowl filled with 2 quarts cold water and 1 teaspoon salt
Make the Mozzarella
Place smaller pot inside of larger and pour 3 quarts of the milk into the smaller pot. Set remaining quart aside for ricotta. Add water to larger pot so that it covers the sides of the smaller pot, but doesn’t make it float.
Stir in citric acid solution.
Slowly heat the milk to 95F and turn off heat or remove from burner, leaving in water bath whose temperature is 100-105F
Stir in rennet solution using an up and down motion, not swirling, and let set without movement for 5 minutes. At the end of this time the milk should have coagulated into a heavy custard.
Cut the coagulated milk into 3/8 inch columns and a few horizontal cuts at about the same interval. Let set for 5 minutes.
Heat and agitate or stir the curds, depending upon their firmness (see sidebar), over 5 minutes to 105-108F.
Line colander with cloth and ladle curds into cloth, cover and let drain, flipping curd mass as a whole inside cloth every 5 minutes.
Make the Ricotta
Place the pot containing the whey on direct heat and bring temperature up to 175F, stirring. Remove any bits of curd remaining and add to colander.
When 175F is reached, stir in 1 quart of milk. It should immediately coagulate into ricotta curds. Stir for a minute then use the small sieve to remove the curds from the hot whey. Reserve whey.
Drain ricotta for about 3 minutes then place in bowl.
Stretch the Mozzarella
Stir two tablespoons of salt into whey and verify temperature is still 175F
Cut the mozzarella curd mass into 8 pieces. Drop into the hot whey for several moments. Check a chunk for stretch. When curd is pliable, place the entire mass on aplate and gently work the curd by folding it in toward the center in a circular pattern. Reheat as needed to maintain a pliable texture. Repeat the process about 2 times, just until the curd becomes shiny, then form a ball or loaf.
Place in the cold water bowl just long enough to firm it up, then serve or store for later. Use within a day or so for the best texture.
Mozzarella Tips and Tricks
Traditional, cultured mozzarella making is an all-day process. Quick “30 Minute” recipes have the advantage in near instant gratification – but at a price. Fast recipes for making stretched curd cheese rely upon a lucky combination of added acid, great milk, and deft craftsmanship. While mastering these types of recipes be patient with yourself and with the milk! Here are some tips for success:
Measure the citric acid very carefully. If you use too little or too much the curd will not stretch. Often the amount must be adjusted to suit the milk for the next batch.
Use the freshest milk possible. Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. Most milk available from the grocery store will make quite decent quick mozzarella, but it must be handled very gently. Often it cannot be stirred during step 6, but must instead be agitated by gently swirling or shaking the pot. Farm fresh milk will usually create a much more resilient and malleable curd.
Think of working pasta filata cheese curd as if it is a delicate pastry, rather than bread dough. Too much kneading and working will result in a tough, rubber like texture.
Don’t leave the curd in the hot whey any longer than necessary or you will overheat the fat and lose it from the curd.
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
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.
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.
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
Combine milk, citric acid solution, and calcium chloride solution.
Warm milk to 90 F, stirring evenly.
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.
Cut the curd into ½ inch pieces let set for 2 minutes.
Stir and heat the curd to 105 F over 5-10 minutes or until curd starts to feel somewhat “plastic” or gooey.
Place a colander over a pot and pour curds into it, reserving the whey. Cover curds.
Heat whey to 175-180F.
Cut up curd mass into 1 inch chunks then lower them in 1-2 cup amounts into hot whey.
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
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
Warm milk to 80F and sprinkle cultures on top. Let set 5 minutes. Stir well.
Increase temperature to 90F and hold for one hour.
Stir in calcium chloride if using.
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.
Cut curd into 3/8 – ½ inch chunks, rest 5 minutes
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.
Drain the curds (saving whey) in a colander. Cover colander and place over warm pot, keeping the curd temperature at about 102-104 F.
Turn curd mass every 30-45 minutes until curd pH is about 5.2 or when curd passes stretch test.
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.