Okay, stop sniggering at the back, please. The title of the post doesn’t say that I made my own bodyweight in mozzarella or enough mozzarella to keep Papa John’s afloat. I will admit that it’s not the largest haul of cheese ever produced but that’s the thing about artisan cheese, right – quality over quantity. So there.
Anyone who has ever read my blog before will know that previous attempts to make cheese have not always resulted in unqualified success. The first attempt resulted in a basic cheese which managed to combine both utter blandness with a nauseating creaminess. The second was a cheddar that collapsed. The third was my Tooting Gold cheddar, otherwise known affectionately as E-Colin; he is currently still languishing in my cellar so it remains to be seen whether he is a success or not. The last attempt was a feta which looked to be going well, until it disintegrated into slime in its own brine. Nice:
Having consulted Twitter followers and random cheese-makers and maestros I’ve met along the way, the consensus seemed to be to get back to basics and make a nice fresh chèvre, nothing too complicated. So, naturally, I decided to ignore them all and try and make a mozzarella, a fiendishly difficult cheese that has defeated many a home cheese-maker and even some professionals. And the reason for this? Simply because my local market sells raw buffalo milk, so it seemed a shame not to give it a try. It’s made by Alham Wood, whose buffalo cheese I tried back in the summer. Here is the milk that I procured; I went for half and half with raw cow’s milk in the end, a total of two litres:
Once I had the milk in the bag, it was time to get some Citric Acid. Now, Citric Acid has all kinds of culinary uses, in everything from elderflower cordial to boiled sweets, but it also has some, ahem, less savoury recreational uses, shall we say. I knew that the chemist round the corner sold it but I’d also been warned that they could be a bit suspicious about why you’re buying it. ‘Not a problem,’ I thought, ‘I’m in there every third day buying Calpol and Ben-10 socks. I’m pretty sure this will be fine.’ Except of course the usual guy isn’t in there.
‘Hallo!’ I say jauntily. ‘I’d like some Citric Acid, please.’
The chemist chap takes it off the shelf and eyes me suspiciously. ‘Can I ask what you’ll be using it for?’
‘Making cheese,’ I say, doing the old look-them-confidently-straight-in-the-eye trick.
‘Cheese?’ he says (and this is where I really should have kept my trap shut and not tried to be all clever-clever about it.)
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I’m not about to use it to inject heroin into my eyeballs, if that’s what you’re thinking, haha.’
The chap stares at me for a long, long time whilst fingering the little box and then eventually says, ‘Oh no, not that, I was thinking of something much worse.’
I’m not sure which of us was most freaked out by now but fortunately I did manage to leave the shop with some Citric Acid. If you’re wondering what it looks like, here it is:
Now, in terms of recipes, I started off following this one from The Guardian (note the ‘started off’ bit here. And as for ‘more difficult…but an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so’, my eye, Fearnley-Whittingstall…)
First I dissolved 1 tsp of the Citric Acid crystals in 60ml of boiled-then-cooled to warm water. The milk was already at the right temperature (13C) as it had been sitting out on the market all morning and then in my kitchen so I added the Citric Acid mixture and heated it to 30C. As promised, it started to curdle.
I then diluted ¼ tablet of rennet in a tablespoon of boiled, cooled water and added it to the milk. I warmed it gently to 38-39C, stirring from time to time and then removed it from the heat and left it for about 15 minutes, to let the curd set and separate from the whey. EXCEPT IT DIDN’T BECAUSE IT NEVER STUFFING DOES FOR ME, GRRR. So I left it for a bit longer but this was still the pathetic haul of curds that I got.
Determined to see it through, I continued to follow Hugh’s oh-so-simple instructions which involved pressing the whey out of the curds but leaving them ‘dripping a little’. I added 2tbsp of salt to the whey in the pan and heated it to 80C. At this point I was supposed to dip the curds into the hot whey for a minute or so. The first problem I encountered was that the whey was really hot so I tried to do it with a slotted spoon but then the curds started collapsing back into the whey. So, determined not lose my precious curds, I did what cheese-makers have been doing since time immemorial and bunged it in the microwave for one minute (a technique I read about here.)
I repeated this at thirty-second intervals, tipping off a little bit more whey each time. After about the third time, the curds started to get a bit stretchy and I could pull and knead them a bit:
And finally – LOOK! – lovely, stretchy, foldy curds that I pulled and kneaded and finally made a little ball of mozzarella with:
So there we are. It’s not the four balls promised by Fearnley-Whitters but it is fresh buffalo mozzarella, which went down very nicely with a few torn leaves of basil. And no, I never did find out what the ‘much worse’ thing was that you can do with Citric Acid, although I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad recently so have my suspicions…