The Simple Art of Making Cheese is both easy to learn and fun in practice. Learn the fascinating process of making the simplest of cheeses–mozzarella!
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of travelling to the gorgeous Napa Valley region of California to attend the Food and Culinary Professionals Workshop with one of my clients, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. As the workshop is geared toward Registered Dietitians, the sessions were very technical (read: nerdy) and informative. My inner Food Dork was giddy with excitement. Because Science.
Several twelve hour days filled with informational sessions, and hands on culinary instruction later, my mind was racing with newly acquired knowledge. I learned so much in just a few days that I’ve had a hard time narrowing down what to share with you in a single post. As we had the opportunity to learn about the cheese making process from esteemed chefs at two different culinary schools, I’m going to share what I learned about making mozzarella cheese.
But first, let’s talk about the simple art of making cheese. Did you know that cheese is simply milk that has been preserved for later consumption?
Cheese is Simple:
All types of cheese are made from four simple ingredients: milk, culture, a coagulating enzyme, and salt. The process of making cheese is fairly straight forward. Subtle changes in the method will alter the texture and flavor of the cheese.
Although I spent time learning the simple art of making cheese at two different culinary schools, the method taught by Chef Hilary Sullivan at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia was by far the most informative.
Here I am with posing Chef Hilary and my besties Rachel/Rachel Cooks and Sarah/The Chef Next Door after our class. Isn’t Chef Hilary the cutest?! Please ignore the knackered looks on the food bloggers and focus on the doll in the chef whites, ‘mkay? More than twelve hours on our collective feet that day took it’s toll by the end of the night.
So. Worth. It.
Here we with UDIM’s Janice and Sara, looking a bit more chipper at the beginning of our culinary experience.
YOU GUYS!!! Julia Child cooked in this very same kitchen! No lie. Chef Hilary excitedly shared that little trivia nugget with us. I may have squealed and did happy dance right along with her. Mutual Julia-fangirling aside, Chef Hilary is a fantastic culinary instructor.
How to make cheese from cheese curds:
One of the things she taught us was how to make mozzarella cheese from cheese curds. Now, I’ve made fresh mozzarella from a handy cheese making kit, and let me tell you–it takes some practice to get the enzymes just right to make cheese curds from fluid milk. Thankfully, we started the cheese making process with ready-made curds so as to eliminate any chemistry failures. I volunteered to do the hands on for this one, and I’m glad that I did. Holy cow! (pun intended) Making mozzarella from cheese curds is so much fun!
You’ll need a fair amount of counter space to make mozzarella. I highly suggest getting every thing in place before beginning the cheese making process. Get a large pasta pot full of salted water simmering on the stove to reach 170°-180°F. Stir some salt in a large bowl of cool water for the “brine” bath. As a general rule, add 1 tablespoon of salt per pound of cheese curds to the cool water. Once the salt has dissolved in the cool water, add several handfuls of ice to the brine bath.
Why all the salt? Salt plays a crucial role in flavoring cheese–especially one as simple as fresh mozzarella. As Chef Hilary explained, just like when cooking a really great pasta dish, you only get one shot to flavor the inside of the cheese or the overall flavor will fall flat. The salt in the brine bath will not lend enough flavor to the cheese to make it tasty.
So go to your happy place on the salt issue and let’s make some cheese! Place room temperature cheese curds into a large bowl. Ladle enough of the simmering water over the curds to cover them by about an inch or two. Let the curds sit in the warm for 5 minutes, or until they start to melt and glop together in a gooey mass when stirred with a wooden spoon. Add more warm water, as needed, to retain this texture.
Mozzarella is a “pasta filata” cheese, meaning that the curds are stretched to elongate the strands and produce a smooth and creamy texture. Once the curds soften enough to come together, it’s time to “glove up” to protect your hands from the hot water. A double layer of non-powdered food safe gloves will do nicely. Then, pull off a hunk of melty curds and gently stretch and fold it between your hands several times to elongate the curds and create smooth layers. Afterward, form the pulled curds into a ball and pinch it together like a dinner roll. Finally, place the neat little ball of pulled cheese it into the brine bath.
As with kneading bread, a gentle touch is the key to achieving the desired level of elasticity without making the cheese tough. Consequently, fresh mozzarella should be soft and smooth to the bite.
I went with fist-sized balls of cheese because we were slicing them for the simple and delicious appetizer with roasted yellow beats, as shown above. However, the balls of mozzarella can really be any size that you like. Hey, if you’re up for making bite sized balls of baby mozzarella, then by all means–knock yourself out!
What to do with the fresh mozzarella:
Fresh mozzarella is best enjoyed in the first 24 to 48 hours after making it. However, the finished balls of cheese may be wrapped and refrigerated in the brine bath for a week or two. To eat fresh, simply remove the mozzarella from the brine and slice it to serve. Maybe layer it with sliced tomatoes and fresh basil for a simple Caprese-style salad, or as we did with roasted and cooled beets or other vegetables.
Another option is plopping pieces of fresh mozzarella on an easy 30 minute cornmeal pizza dough, along with pesto, grape tomatoes, and caramelized onions for a flavorful meal. The possible uses for fresh mozzarella are endless!
So that’s a quick explanation of the simple art of making cheese. I really hope that you found the cheese making process to be as interesting as I did. Due to the sheer volume of information learned at the Food and Culinary Professionals Conference, I can’t help but share more about it in the coming weeks–including a great new recipe inspired by the trip!
My friends at Milk Means More paid for my lodging, travel expenses, and attendance at the Food and Culinary Professionals Workshop. My inner Food Dork is incredibly grateful for the intellectual, hands-on learning experience. As always, all opinions are my own. Find out more about why Milk Means More and find great recipes on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.