Back by popular demand, this is your last chance to catch it before next year! With shucked corn and watermelon slices, or with basil and fresh tomatoes- summer would not be the same with out fresh mozzarella. Daphne Zepos invites you to a unique hands-on class in which students learn how to make mozzarella and take home the fruit (or rather, ball) of their labor, but not before indulging in a one-of-a-kind tasting of several types of fresh mozzarella from the US and Italy. Just in time for the peak season of picnics and patio parties..What follows is a summary of the evening based on my notes.
Daphne started the evening by introducing herself as a "Cheese Maturer", with the Artisanal Cheese Center (she is Director of Affinage) and then gave us a brief history of Italian mozzarella. According to Daphne, mozzarella has been produced in the Puglia region of Italy ("the heel of the boot of Italy") for at least 300 years, in part because the it's a hospitable region for Indian water buffalo -- extremely large, difficult, and tempermental beasts that like to wallow in slightly salty marshes. During World War II, the Germans slaughtered all of the buffalo in Italy, to resulting in complete eradication. The population was partially restored by importing water buffalo from India.
In Italy, mozzarella is eaten very fresh. It is made in the morning, and is considered past its prime if not eaten the same day. This is in part because they use cultures that develop very quickly. In the U.S., slower developing cultures are used to extend the "freshness" of mozzarella. Today in the U.S., production of dry, industrial mozzarella -- the kind you find shredded at the grocery store -- is greater than the production of all other cheeses combined.
There are basically two steps to make mozarella -- transforming milk into curd, and then transforming the curd into mozzarella through a stretching process. In this course we focused on the second step, stretching the mozzarella, which I have detailed below.
After you have prepared your curd, you will want to cut it into small pieces. Next you'll want to prepare a brine bath. Add 1 cup of salt to 2 gallons of room temperature water. Stir to dissolve, then add ice to chill the brine. You'll also need a bath of very hot water, just below boiling. Take a handful of curd pieces, about the size of a tennis ball, and carefully place them in the hot water bath, so that they retain their ball-shape. Do not stir or disturb the curd, just let it rest in the hot bath until it begins to melt. You can check for its readiness by making sure all the curd pieces are sticking together. Once its ready, remove the ball from the hot water bath, then stretch the mozzarella by folding it backwards, like you would while kneading bread. Fold just until it is fully melted and free of clumps. The outer skin should appear very pearly and shiny. Make a final fold, then pinch edges together to form a ball, and place in the the iced brine bath.
Below is the recipe we were provided with for making mozzarella at home. Note that the technique for stretching mozzarella varies slightly from the one we used. I have yet to try this at home, but I suspect the technique we used in class will prevent over-working the mozzarella and is closer to foolproof.
Making Fresh Mozzarella at Home
*This recipe and information was adapted from the book Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll, copyright 2002*
2 teaspoons citric acid
1 gallon pasteurized whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
- Pour milk into a large pot.
- Add citric acid to the milk and mix thoroughly.
- Gently stir in the diluted rennet with an up and down motion, continue heating until the temperature reaches 105 degrees. Turn off the heat and the curd set for 5-10 minutes.
- Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put into a large bowl. Press the curds gently with your hands, pouring off as much whey as possible. Reserve the whey.
- Heat the reserved wehy to at least 175 degrees. Add salt to the whey or directly to the curd.
- Ladle hot whey over the curd and begin to knead with 2 wooden spoons until the curd is smooth and pliable.
- The internal temperature of the curd needs to reach around 165 degrees to become pliable and stretchy. If the curd breaks, it needs to be reheated.
- When the cheese becomes smooth and shiny, it is ready to eat. Eat warm or save covered in the refrigerator.
Yield: 3/4 - 1 pound
After everyone had a chance to make their own ovilini, we moved on to the cheese tasting. We tasted seven different cheeses in all. In the photo of my tasting plate, the first cheese listed below, the Arthur Avenue Mozzarella, is just above the fork at approximately four o'clock, then you can follow along moving clockwise. Here are the cheeses we tasted, along with my very brief, non-expert notes on each:
- Fresh Domestic Mozzarella (ovolini), Arthur Avenue, Bronx: dense, corky texture. milk-flavored.
- Domestic Buffalo, Star Hill Dairy, Vermont: smoother in texture than the Arthur Ave, slightly sour/tangy, slight cream.
- Mozzarella di Buffala, Puglia, Italy: spongy texture, almost citric undertone. a favorite..
- Oaxaca, The Mozzarella Company, Texas: Mexican mozzarella, wrapped like a ribbon instead of solid ball. creamy, light yellow.
- Capriella, The Mozzarella Company, Texas: Made from goat's milk. dense.
- Cacciocavalo Polodico, Gufannti, Sicily Italy: aged mozzarella. strong, sharp, peppery. A favorite.
- Provolone Mandarone, Guffanti Italy: another aged mozzarella, made in northern Italy then taken south to age by the sea. "hung in the sea breeze" for 9 months. size of large pumpkin! also sharp tasting.
Overall, the course was great fun and educational; I'll definitely consider attending another of their course offerings or tastings in the future. My only complaint was that we didn't get more hands-on insight into making curd. The next Hands-On Mozzarella course is June 30th, and registration is available online.