Mozzarella, the Junket style.

The ability to achieve reproducible, excellent quality mozzarella is one I am unsure exists with the home cheese maker.  I am yet to hear of someone who has had recurring success with this cheese.  Here, I smirk upon the term ‘home cheese maker’ as someone who does not have access to a pH meter.  With this rather negative view, I embark upon the journey of Chapter 3 in Mary Karlin’s book. My own results were subpar, about a 5/10.

Stretching the curd at 180-185ºF

Stretching the curd at 180-185ºF

As a Scientist, the most exciting aspect of Mozzarella making for me was discovering the science of the casein network that holds significant importance to the development of melt and stretch in a cheese.  While many, if not most, cheeses are expected to melt under heat, the properties behind a stretch and melt combination is one that possesses a sort of Goldilocks zone in terms of balance.

Playing with Curds

Playing with curds

It’s all about the right pH. pH is a measure of the acidity of a substance.  A pH of 7.0 (water at 25C) is considered neutral whereas pH < 7.0 is acidic.  To get a cheese that has good stretch and melt, the casein network in the curds need to have the right amount of casein-casein interaction.  A high pH curd (6.5ish) will possess too many casein interactions coupled with the presence of another nuisance: calcium phosphate.  A very low pH curd (below 4.6) will disconnect the network.  The right pH is between 4.9 and 5.2   and I am quite sure that even within this range, the results will vary quite a bit.

Quick mozzarella is one where a precise amount of vinegar or citric acid is added to milk in order to create the right pH environment.  However, traditional mozzarella is made through the action of cultures on milk to reduce its pH.  It is a slower process (about 16 hours long) but can be expected to give far more tasty results! Yum, yum.

Mass of curds at the end of the curd formation stage

Mass of curds at the end of the curd formation stage

Last weekend, Valerie, Ian and I made a version of quick mozzarella from Mary K’s book – Junket Mozzarella.  While we didn’t have junket tablets with us, the conversion is (thank you, Ian) 4 tablets = 1/4 tsp of (double strength) rennet.

The process of curd formation is one that is very standard.  In this case, the addition of vinegar is with the purpose of creating the right acidity in milk and is not to be confused with milk coagulation by vinegar in direct acid cheeses (like in paneer, ricotta etc.).  To coagulate milk with direct acid, the temperature needs to be roughly 180-190F.  In this case, rennet coagulated the milk at 90F.  We let the curds set for 30 minutes, till it gave a good clean break.

The second stage of mozzarella making involves heating the whey to 180-190F and adding

Balls of Mozzarella right after cold treating them

Balls of Mozzarella right after cold treating them

slices of the mildly shaped curds.  Then, kneading and stretching them into an eventual ball.  This is the hardest part, in my opinion, in the process of mozzarella making.  Note that you have to immerse your hands in HOT whey so be prepared for that (or buy heat-proof gloves).  My results were subpar mainly because I think I overstretched my curd, thus dissociating some of the casein network.

Once the balls are formed, immediately drop them in ice cold water to stop further expansion.   I got various shapes of mozzarella and I’m hoping that next time I do it, I get two decent sized balls.

Tasting Notes

  • Appearance: white and rubbery feel
  • Nose (aroma): fresh, dairy like with little (or no) tangy odor
  • Overall Taste: FRESH
  • Sweet to Salty: sweet
  • Mouthfeel: gummy and a bit squeaky, when melted tastes pretty good.

Okay – so how does this cheese do under the influence of temperature and strain?  That is the ultimate test of its melting and stretching properties.

Melting

Pizza on Toast

Pizza on toast with homemade marinara and homemade bread… oh, and homemade cheese. Makes for a great late night snack if you’re (pretending to be) working late.

This cheese melted reasonably well when placed in a toaster oven for a few minutes.  Would have liked more melt, but then again I was hungry and took it out too soon 😀

Stretching

Stretch Test revealing some of the stretchiness in the middle of the cheese but less on the surface

Stretch Test revealing some of the stretchiness in the middle of the cheese but less on the surface

When stretched, this cheese seemed to do pretty well.  The inner ‘layers’ of cheese seem to be stretching better than the surface layer.

Perhaps more heat was required or this was just the result of inferior mozzarella.

The image on the right shows finer details of the stretch.  Stringy casein connections can be seen and the hope was for this to be more widespread throughout the cheese.

Details of the stretched region

Seeing the inner details of the stretched cheese. More heat needed, or perhaps it is a result of just inferior cheese.

I do plan to make this cheese again and will try the traditional method.  It will require more time investment and hence greater risk, what with the low success rate and all.  However, I am humbled by my own limitations and want to master the ability to make really good mozzarella in future!

~ Addie

6 comments

    1. thanks! Give my mediocre results, the only thing I can do at this stage is talk about the science. Hopefully my next batch will be far better!

  1. Hey Addie, would really encourage you to go forward with trying out the traditional method. I’ve yet to finish my write up on that, but wow, what a great cheese it turned out to be! When sliced it had that circular, tear-apart quality that I find with good-quality, store-bought versions. Was glad I watched a few YouTube videos in advance to get a sense of watching the final steps of adding hot water to the cheese cubes and then the stretching, Definitely a full day project (in fits and starts) though, so clear the calendar.

      1. aah, I don’t have either. Might have to wait till I can find pH strips or a pH meter. I think that’s the key with mozzarella!

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