Monday, April 7, 2014

Making Fresh Mozzarella

Every few months a pamphlet comes in the post advertising adult education community classes in my neighborhood (via PACE). There are belly dancing lessons, computer basics, crocheting, and several other pretty cool classes in the roster. We usually ignore the pamphlets because we're just too busy to be bothered. However, this season we saw that they were offering a fresh mozzarella making class! A class where you learn how to make one of the most delicious cheeses in the world?! We signed up immediately. That was several months ago (like, before Christmas) and it seemed like March 11th would never come but it totally did. Yes, yes, this class was a month ago and I'm only blogging about it now. I already had other posts queued up so this one just had to wait in line to be posted.

Anyway, I brought my camera along so I could blog the experience for you and for myself, as I rarely do anything as interesting as cheese making.
So I had been expecting to learn about the process of adding rennet to unpasteurized milk and waiting for it to curdle and cutting the curds and all that jazz but we actually started the class with ready made mozzarella curd, mostly out of convenience but also because of time limitations. The curd comes in blocks and is available at most restaurant supply stores and specialty Italian groceries. I was a little disappointed as it didn't really feel like we were doing any of the actual legwork that it takes to make cheese. It felt a bit like going to a cake-making class and starting with boxed mix.

Despite my initial disappointment, the class was a lot of fun and we did learn a lot. And honestly, it's not the worst thing in the world to take a shortcut if it's available, right? Plus, it isn't v. economic to buy a tank of milk to try and make curd so if you're ever keen on making some mozzarella, starting with the curd is the most prudent option.
To make the cheese, the curds are cubed into small 1" chunks and evenly distributed into a big heat-safe container. Then, hot water is poured right over the curds. The water should be about 180F, which is not quite boiling but definitely too toasty for a hot tub.
Next, a wooden paddle is used to massage the curds as they soften from the heat of the water and they're mushed and mashed together into a smooth, shiny, stretchy mass.
Once all of the cubes of curd have melted into a big shiny blob and has the texture of a soft taffy, the curd is portioned and shaped into smooth balls. The balls are rolled around in between your palms and occasionally dipped back into the hot milky water to keep them looking smooth and gorgeous. Then they're plunged into ice cold water which helps them keep their shape. If the cheese balls were just placed on a tray or plate, they would ooze and it would be a waste of all that time spent molding and smoothing them.
Once our instructor, Tony, demonstrated the process a few times, we got to try our hand at making our own mozzarella balls. Here's baby sister giving it a go.
She did a great job!
And here I am!
Our instructor also made a prosciutto-filled braided mozzarella cheese blob. We got to eat it; it was delicious. He flattened out a piece of the mozzarella into a flat oval shape, spread out a layer of really good prosciutto, and then rolled it up into a log and then twisted the log up into a braid. This one wasn't plunged into cold water (as that would ruin the prosciutto). Instead, it was twisted up in a piece of plastic wrap and set in a cool place to set up.
After everyone in the class had a turn, we got to partake in a delicious meal of caprese salad, salami, prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, olives, roasted red peppers, and some crusty amazing bread. The star of this snack should've been the mozzarella but I thought the olive oil was the best part. It was so fruity and green and delicious and it perfectly complemented the cheese.
Aren't we adorable? I'm not sure if you could tell, but the class was held in a middle school home economics classroom. I was so jealous; I wish I could've taken home ec in junior high. I probably would've started a food blog much sooner.
The best part, besides the mini feast, was that we each got to take home a fresh mozzarella ball!
If I can find some good quality cheese curd on my own or if I can find unpasteurized milk and rennet, I might try and do this on my own at home. Obviously if I give it a go and if it is successful, I will share it with you here.

Meanwhile, I'll be sharing the ways I used this lovely fresh mozzarella so come back!
Edited to add: I made an eggplant and prosciutto sandwich with the mozzarella!
Cheers!

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