Why would you make fresh homemade mozzarella rather than buy it premade? One reason might be that you can’t get it (or you can’t get a product of the quality that you want). Another is that you want to do something different on your pizzas. We think that it’s fun to make cheese and it lets you experience that ingredient on a whole new level. Once you do start making it, that gives you an opportunity to create something very different that you can’t buy, such as our infused mozzarella.
In this guide, we’ll cover some basic mozzarella making principles so that you can give it a try.
Mozzarella curd is produced when milk is cultured, heated, and acidified, either through fermentation with lactic acid bacteria (LAB) cultures or directly with citric acid. Then rennet is added to cause coagulation. The pH will fall and, once it reaches a pH of 5.3–5.1 (see page Volume 2 page 292), the curd may immediately be stretched into mozzarella (known as the filature step). The tangled mass of casein complexes that forms the curd is steeped in a bath of very hot whey or water.
After a short period of time, the curds are kneaded and the stretching begins, which forms the curd into a soft, elastic, stringy texture. As we were experimenting and developing our mozzarella recipes, we asked ourselves a series of questions. Is stretching mozzarella curd worth the effort? Does balling the resulting cheese matter? Can we simply bake mozzarella curd on a pizza? Our experiments led to several interesting conclusions.
The first is that we highly recommend stretching mozzarella curd. We recommend limiting the stretching to two to three times, however, since overstretching can result in a tougher texture. As soon as a nice sheen has developed from stretching, your mozzarella is ready to use. Seasoned, drained curd can be used on pizza instead of mozzarella, but you need to manage your expectations. Baking the unstretched curd will moderately increase browning (this browning may bother some pizzaioli more than others) and the result will lack the nice stringy pull typically desired on a pizza. Furthermore, curds aren’t commonly seasoned with salt, so they can be very bland. Could we troubleshoot both of these problems? Our procedure for brining the curd (see page 325 of volume 2 of Modernist Pizza) can mitigate the browning issue and improve the flavor.
We recommend brine for storing your own homemade mozzarella, which is included in our mozzarella recipe. Just make sure to drain it overnight before baking or you’ll get a soupy pizza. Additionally, brining will give your cheese shelf stability by inhibiting bacterial growth.
If you don’t want to wait 12 hours to drain your mozzarella, you can instead try to vacuum drain it, which involves placing your cut mozzarella onto a liquid-absorbing pad (like the absorbent pads packed with a cut of meat), vacuum-packaging the bag, and then pulling a full vacuum. The pressure from sealing the cheese will push out the moisture and the meat pad absorbs the liquid coming off the cheese. You can then store your mozzarella under refrigeration until you are ready to bake (but not beyond its original expiration date). The cheese bakes exactly like traditionally cut and drained fresh mozzarella and the best part is that this method can easily be scaled up to large quantities of cheese.
Eager to make your own mozzarella? The full recipe awaits you in our Paprika-Infused Fior Di Latte Mozzarella post. Just a friendly tip: if you’re aiming for a classic, plain mozzarella, skip the additional paprika infusion step. You can also find the full recipe (and many more) on page 297 in volume 2 of Modernist Pizza.
As you embark on your mozzarella-making journey, we’d love to be part of your experience. Don’t forget to share your creations on social media and tag us. Your culinary adventures matter to us!