You can learn how to make mozzarella cheese, start to finish, within thirty minutes. It’s so easy you can do it while crafting the rest of your dinner.
When I learned how to make mozzarella cheese, I had no idea I’d be starting an addictive legacy with my daughter. Either she warms the milk and adds rennet, stretching curd to make cheese, while I knead and rise the pizza crust, or I’ll craft mozzarella while she slices and roasts eggplant and simmers garden marinara, making ricotta cheese to layer between.
Because making mozzarella cheese is that easy. If you keep key ingredients on hand, it can be as spontaneous as craving cheese, pulling milk from the fridge, and whipping it up before the hour is over.
Simple mozzarella ingredients are:
- One gallon whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized
- ½ tablespoon citric acid or 1/3 cup lemon juice
- ¼ tablet or ¼ teaspoon cheese making rennet
- ½ cup cold water
Necessary equipment includes a pot holding at least a gallon, dairy thermometer, slotted spoon, colander and cheesecloth, microwave-safe bowl, and the microwave itself.
The milk: Use whole milk. Because cheese is composed of curdled proteins and butterfat, two percent milk produces half the cheese as 4 four percent. A gallon of each costs about the same. So, get the most for your money and buy milk with high-fat content. Raw milk is fine, as is pasteurized. But do not use ultra-pasteurized (UP) or heat-treated (HT) milk because it will not curdle. If you purchased UP milk, either drink it or learn how to make yogurt from scratch and use it for that. UP milk cultures just fine.
The citric acid: I learned how to make mozzarella cheese using citric acid but reworked the recipe for my sister, who is allergic to corn. Acid makes proteins curdle, so citric acid, distilled vinegar, and lemon juice are all fine. But in the United States, the citric acid and distilled vinegar are both made with corn. It’s nice to have alternatives when serving loved ones with allergies.
The rennet: Purchase cheese making rennet; types intended for custards and desserts are not strong enough. Good rennets can be found online or in brewing supply stores, and tablets work just as well as liquid. If you’re just learning how to make mozzarella cheese, purchase tablets because unused portions can be frozen between cheese making adventures. I prefer liquid; it’s great if you know you’ll use it all before it expires.
The water: Yes, that matters too. Chlorine and heavy metals interfere with curdling so bottled or distilled water are best.
These ingredients are for cow milk mozzarella. Making goat cheese mozzarella also involves thermophilic starter culture to help curdle proteins. That recipe can be found in Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making book.
How to Make Mozzarella Cheese
When I make pizza, I mix and kneed the crust first then put it in to rise. Then I start making cheese. By the time my mozzarella chills in the refrigerator and I’ve mixed up a sauce, the crust is ready to roll. Chilling mozzarella makes it easy to slice into perfect pizza-topping coins.
Got your ingredients? Your equipment? Ok, start your timer!
Step 1: Warm milk within the pot, over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to avoid scalding. At the same time, separate water into two separate ¼-cup containers. Dissolve citric acid or lemon juice in one and rennet in the other. If rennet tablets don’t fully dissolve, don’t worry.
Step 2: When the milk registers 55 degrees on the dairy thermometer, add the mixture of citric acid and water. Stir gently. As heat climbs, you’ll see the liquid attain a grainy texture as proteins curdle.
Step 3: When the milk registers 88 degrees on the dairy thermometer, add the mixture of rennet and water. Stir gently. Now, as heat climbs, you’ll see those small grains change into larger, rubbery curds surrounded by yellowish whey.
Step 4: When the milk registers just over 100 degrees, either lift curds from the whey with a slotted spoon or line a colander with cheesecloth and strain curds into a sink.* Collect curds in the microwave-safe bowl.
(*Author’s note: My tomatoes love the whey from my mozzarella. My soil is naturally so alkaline that pouring whey directly beneath plants lowers the pH to a level nightshades prefer. I place a colander over another pot to strain my curds, so I catch every drop of precious liquid. My chickens also crave this protein-rich drink.)
Step 5: Microwave curds for 30 seconds. Squeeze off excess whey and heat again. Carefully, because this can get hot, lift curds and stretch them like taffy, pulling and folding over then stretching again. If curds start to break instead of stretch, return to the bowl and heat another 15 to 30 seconds. Do this four or five times, creating a smooth and elastic product.
Step 6: Salt to taste (I like about a tablespoon per pound of cheese) then heat and stretch one more time to mix it in. Don’t add salt before this point because it can affect stretch.
Step 7: Time to finish it off. How do you like your mozzarella? Separated into three equal portions then heated and stretched so you can braid it? Rolled in little balls and marinated in herbed oil? Or squeezed into one tight ball so you can slice or grate it later? Either way, work it while it’s hot then cool it down. Immerse mozzarella balls in ice water if you wish to use them immediately. Or wrap in plastic and chill in the refrigerator.
A Note about Real Mozzarella
If you’re just learning how to make mozzarella cheese, you may be surprised to find that your finished product does not melt. It stretches. This can be delectable on paninis but an unexpected challenge for macaroni and cheese. Instead of being disappointed, rethink your food’s form. Slice mozzarella into little “coins” to alternate with heirloom tomato rounds on a margherita pizza. Shave narrow slivers to stack over lasagna noodles. Use chopped mozzarella bits on top of pasta, providing texture, rather than melting into the noodles.
Do you know how to make mozzarella cheese? If so, let us know your favorite uses, plus tips and tricks in the comments below.