Thursday, January 28, 2010

6. Learn to Make Fresh Mozzarella

This New Thing was of a definitely different variety than the last two. Over a year ago my friend and colleague Mark had reported to me one day that one of his many new pursuits was cheese-making, and that making fresh mozzarella was actually a relatively easy and quick process. So, when I started to put my list together in the fall, I went back to Mark and asked him if he'd commit to showing me how to make it. In fact, it was the first thing I scheduled on the list. Two other friends, my colleague Valerie who suggested a number of the things that went on the list, and former student Dan H. who is on the hook to teach me a whole bunch of New Things beginning with bicycle maintenance this year, were also up for a lesson. So, on a bitterly cold and windy Thursday night we got together in my kitchen to get a cooking (and biology) lesson from Mark. We learned about hydrophobic and hydrophylic molecules, denatured proteins and the importance of pH and temperature for optimum enzyme action.

We also learned, as did Mark, that if you fail to label your salt and citric acid, you might mistake one for the other when you add it to the milk, and your cheese won't curdle properly, no matter how much heating and rennet-adding you do. That's what happened to the ill-fated first batch we made. The resulting cheese looked like ricotta and tasted a bit like marscapone (but not as smooth and sweet). Luckily, Mark had instructed both Valerie and I to each provide a gallon of milk, so we tried again with the second gallon and taste-tested the "acid" to discover it was actually salt.

The basic steps of mozzarella making are actually pretty simple, once you make sure you're clear on which ingredient is which. Oversimplifying only a little, here is what you do:
1. Pour the gallon of milk in a big kettle, add diluted citric acid and slowly heat to 90 degrees.
2. Add the rennet (the stuff that makes the cheese separate)and heat till thickened and the solid curds separate from the liquid whey (which is what is used to make ricotta). In the category of Too Much Information, if you don't already know it, rennet comes from the lining of calves' stomachs (it's an enzyme that breaks down milk, so that makes sense, right?), although like zillions of other substances it can also be produced by genetically modified bacteria now.
3. Drain the whey, and heat the curds in the microwave. When they are hot, form into a ball and stretch it till it starts to break. Repeat the heating and stretching until the ball looks like the consistency of the mozzarella you buy at the store.
4. Wrap it in plastic wrap (so a "skin" doesn't develop), chill it, and eat it.

That's it. Assuming no problems like we had with the first batch, the whole process only takes around half an hour. It takes a fair amount of milk to make a not-so-big log of cheese, but of course, the satisfaction is in having made it yourself. If I had my act together yesterday, this could have been the first Long Distance Tandem New Thing, because my sister Katrinka and brother in law Brian (and of course, my fab niece Tigist)were planning to also make mozzarella for the first time in their kitchen in Tacoma. But I didn't coordinate it well, and they'll be reporting in after they try it this weekend. They'll be glad they did; this is definitely a good New Thing to learn. Thanks to Valerie, Dan H. and especially, our teacher Mark!

I've included a few shots from our lesson. There's one of Valerie and I draining the curds from the whey (I know it doesn't look particularly appetizing at this stage). There's another taken less than five minutes later when the cheese has been transformed under Mark's stretching instructions so it looks like the kind we all know and love (though why I look so serious in the picture, I'm not sure. I can only say that cheese-making is a very, very serious business). There's one of Dan (gray shirt) and our teacher Mark (white turtleneck) proudly holding up the finished product. Finally, Valerie helpfully points out which was the success and which the failure of our two batches.

My overall assessment would be that, relative to say, ice climbing, making your own mozzarella is pretty impressive for the level of effort. ("Oh, did you like the lasagna? Yes, I did make it, and of course also the ingredients that went into it. It was nothing, really. I whipped it up while you were looking up the definitions of all the stuff on your gear list for ice climbing.")

52 Ways to Say I Love You

In Luganda (Spoken in the country of Uganda), with a big thank you to student/friend/fellow AIDS activist Madison.

Hello Oli Oltya (Literally: How are you?)
Good by Walaba
I love you Nkwagala (Can also mean I like you or I want you, so if you're showing off at a bar in Uganda be a little careful)
May I have two beers please? Mpayo beer biili?

Coming Attractions

Take a cross country ski lesson. Sunday afternoon January 31 at Bolton Valley. You snooze, you lose. That's the lesson I learned this week when I went to sign up for the moonlight snow shoe sponsored by the Wilderness Program, only to find it was completely full. It might be just as well because it is supposed to be ridiculously cold Saturday night. Luckily, SMC alum and world-wide outdoor sport instructor Dan S. took a look at my list and shot me an email suggesting a cross country ski lesson might be in order. So, I'll be taking him up on that on Sunday instead of the full moon hike. All's well that ends well.

Penguin Plunge Saturday, February 6. I still haven't talked myself out of jumping into the freezing (and maybe literally frozen) waters of Lake Champlain for this Special Olympics benefit. And it's not too late for anyone else to contribute to the cause, either by signing up as well (Josh and Emily are on the Saint Mike's team now too!) or making a donation (

I still haven't decided whether the following long President's Day weekend will be a New York City trip to include ice skating at Rockefeller Center, or a weekend of working on winter sports (Alpine skiing, snowboarding, night-time snow shoeing and/or skiing, and learning to spin and jump in figure skating have all not been grappled with yet -- so much to do!). So, if you're up for either option, let me know, and once I've figured it out, I'll put the plan in a future post.


  1. I love it; though Trish, you look very concerned in the picture.

  2. Hey Trish, Mary Anne told me that knitting mittens is on the list. I just finished a pair of "bella's mittens" (it's a free pattern, just google it) that are warm and look more upscale boutique than weird church craft fair. They were actually pretty easy...just look fancy.
    Hope you are having fun in all your endeavors!

  3. In my dream last night, I did the Penguin Plunge with you...but in real life I definitely do NOT see myself doing that.

  4. MMMMM. You know cheese is one of my food groups. Where's the like button?

  5. Hey Trish, i finally figured out how to make a comment here. I am also following your blog. So, the next time you leave me behind and go cross country skiing.... I am so happy you are learning all these new things. I will join you soon:-) Hugs hugs.

  6. Trish--If the rennet can now be made from genetically modified bacteria--Frankengerms?--instead of calves stomachs, does this mean it is now consumable by vegetarians (not vegans)? I used to go nuts trying to locate rennet free cheese in this town for my veggie friends. (Vegetarians can eat bacteria, right? Not sure about vegans.)

  7. Hey Elise and John,

    Elise, thanks for the heads-up on the mitten pattern. I made one mitten with Katrinka when I was in Tacoma at Christmas -- now I need to bite the bullet and see if I can remember how to do the other one.If I am successful, I'll try again with the pattern you told me about.
    John, I've been wondering the same thing. I haven't told my hardcore veg friends (I am convenience-based vegetarian myself) about the rennet dilemma. But I am going to check with my friend Claudine, a vegan about rennet from recombinant bacteria...will let you know what I find!