Cheese · Cheesemaking · Mozzarella · Ricotta

Ricotta and Mozzarella: Practice Makes Perfect (Better Still, Practice Makes More Cheese)

I've gotten behind on my posts, so much so that I've done two more batches each of Ricotta and Mozzarella but haven't written about them yet. 

I'm not going to rehash the whole recipe and process every time.  If you want to see the original Ricotta-making post, go here.  And if you want to see the original Mozzarella-making post, go here.

I did, however, want to write about how things went with each successive batch.  In a nutshell, things improved.  But who wants a nutshell?  It's hardly satisfying.

Both times I've made cheeses again, I've made a double batch of mozzarella (if I'm going to make it, why not make plenty?) and a half batch of ricotta.

Second batch of mozzarella went so much smoother than the first chaotic experience.  I learned a lot from the first batch.  Things like…the milk will heat up to 55 degrees F pretty darn fast, so don't go reading ahead in the recipe or anything.  Just WAIT.  Which is what I did.  Added the citric acid right on time, temperature-wise.  I also made sure I had LOTS of bowls on hand, a couple of strainers, slotted spoons, and huge glass of ice water for myself, because it gets pretty hot standing there over a hot pot of milk curds.  Oh, yeah, and I was also making bread, too.  I'll post about that separately.  I made some baguettes to have with the cheeses. 

Anyway.  With this batch #2 of the mozzarella, I changed a few things.  I used half whole milk and half 1%.  I can't keep eating full fat mozzarella, and that's that.  I didn't notice a huge difference, either, though maybe I would if I did a taste test between a full fat and a part full, part low-fat batch.  Hmmmm….that sounds like a fun project, actually. 

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I also added lipase to the batch.  Lipase an enzyme used to give Italian cheeses in particular to enhance the flavor.  It comes in powder form and keeps for ages in the freezer.  You only need a little – I think I used half a teaspoon for this batch.

I also upped the rennet a bit, because I'd read that if you add lipase, the cheese can have a softer consistency, and so if you add more rennet, that helps balance things back out.

Those, and the switch from all whole to half whole and half 1%, were the only changes I made.

Things went a LOT better.  For one thing, the way the curds formed after I added the rennet.  Well, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.  I added the citric acid and the lipase (both are dissolved in cool water, and the lipase needs to sit for 20 minutes before using as well) at the 55 degrees F mark and stirred that in.  Right away, little tiny curds started to form.  You can see them there on the thermometer….

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I kept the thermometer in the liquid and gave it a little stir occasionally, just to see how the curds were doing.  I was waiting for the temp to go up to 90, so I could add the rennet.  Once the rennet joined the party, the fun began.

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Woohoo!  Curds and whey!  A lot of it!

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Best of all, as time went on, the curds basically bunched together and tightened into one big mass and started pulling away from the sides of the pot. 

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Pretty cool, huh?

I also learned another lesson.  In the book it says to add the rennet when the temp reaches 90, and then continue heating to between 100-105.  So I'm standing there sweating away (probably added additional flavor to the cheese…I'M ONLY KIDDING), holding the thermometer in the middle of the pot.  And waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  And the temperature wouldn't go above 90!  Maybe up to 91, but nothing more. 

I didn't mind so much – I was busy gazing lovingly at the giant mozzarella-to-be floating in the whey.  But I was also pretty hot and icky and sort of wanted to get things finished up.  I checked the temperature with another thermometer, thinking maybe the new one I'd bought wasn't any good.  But no, the other one registered 90 also.

And then some little voice whispered "check the temperature of the whey near the side of the pot!"  And so I did, and OH, okay.  Got it.  The curds apparently get to 90 and stop or something.  Or maybe they somehow insulate themselves from the heat.  Whatever it was, the whey was plenty hot enough.  I don't know the exact temperature- once I saw the temperature zipping past 100 and not slowing, I moved the pot off the burner and shut off the flame.

YAY!  Time to strain!

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I'm still on the lookout for a really BIG slotted spoon, but this one I bought recently was an improvement over the strainer – it did a better job of draining out the whey as I scooped up the hot curds.

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As you can see, there is still a lot of whey to be strained out of the curds, but it took less time because I had a better handle on what needed to be done.  I also didn't splash whey all over the counter, the floor, and myself.  Not a lot, anyway.

While I worked on pressing the curds together and pouring off the whey, I was also heating the pot of whey (with salt added) up to 175.  I made several balls of curds and set them aside.  It's sort of like forming snowballs…sometimes the snow isn't exACTLY the right consistency to retain it's ball shape.  Same deal with the curds.  They're still kind of wet, and crumbly at the same time.  So they'll stick together, but you have to do it carefully, otherwise they'll just break into pieces.

It is taking me 3-4 dips in the hot salted whey (okay, I'm not going in it, I mean dipping the ball of curds in the whey 3-4 times) to achieve the proper stretchy consistency.  After the first dunk, I mostly just squeeze out more whey and fold the curds (carefully) over and over a couple of times in my hands, give them another squeeze and then put the ball back into the whey.  After the second dip, I can start to see the strings forming.

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See them?  Little stringy bits?  But you can also see it's still rather crumbly, too.  So I knead it in the bowl or in my hands, and this time around the ball starts to hold together better. 

Back into the whey again, and I start to fold it and stretch, fold it and stretch…

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It's pretty close now – much stretchier. 

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I can't tell you how cool this is.  Well, I guess I can.  It's really, really cool. 

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And what did I do with this batch?  I'd made it a double batch so we could enjoy some that night and so I'd also have some for the next night, when Bill's brother and his girlfriend and his son and HIS girlfriend came over for dinner.  We did beer can chickens (Bill cooked those) and I made a pasta salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of mayo…and two zucchini (from the garden)

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and a beautiful little pattypan squash (from the garden)

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grilled and then cut up into chunks and tossed into the pasta.  I also added some scallions (from our garden), and salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of my ricotta over the top.  (The second batch of ricotta went off without a hitch.)

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IMG_4566 I also made a salad of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and sliced organic hot-house tomatoes.  I drizzled the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkled it with freshly ground black pepper and some generous pinches of Mediterranean Sea Salt. 

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In case you're wondering, after I'd done my two long rows of tomato/mozzarella/basil, I still had a bit of everything left over.  So I chopped it up, tossed it together and set it down the center.  I figured maybe some people would prefer the slices and others would prefer the chopped stuff.

And ALSO (will it never end???) I served a ball of ricotta in the center of one of my breads.  I'd made three baguettes and two circular loaves, both with holes in the center.  One looked like a giant bagel, and the other I'd braided and then joined the two ends.  I sliced that loaf – the braided one – one quarter at a time and set the whole sliced braided loaf in a pie plate where it fit perfectly.  I set the ball of ricotta in the center.

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OH – I almost forgot – I'd ALSO made little mozzarella balls – bocconcini – and let them bathe in a blend of olive oil and chopped herbs from the garden.  Bill and I ate those the night before, spread on one of my baguettes. 

Okay, so all that was from my second batches of mozzarella and ricotta.

I made the third batch of each on Friday, July 4th, while Bill and Alex were out digging quahogs (actually most of them were little neck size) for chowder.  Julia was home with me, but there's not much I can let her do while I'm making mozzarella without her being in danger of getting burned.  She did, however, help me make pizza dough later in the day.

IMG_4736_1 I'd finished the mozzarella and a small batch of ricotta before Bill and Alex returned from digging.  Alex learned how to use a clam rake and did his share of the work, thus earning his dinner.  They had 52 clams in all (not the "thousands" that Alex told me initially) – more than enough to make chowder. 

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Since we had a surplus, we ate the smallest ones raw, on the half shell.  Yum.  Alex loved them, too.  Julia, not so much. 

Bill steamed clams and diced potatoes to make chowder and then shucked the rest of the clams and set them out with lemon wedges on a platter.

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And what was I doing all this time?  Well, I had made pizza dough earlier, so I cut off enough for two pizzas, stretched out the dough on two cookie sheets, and gave them to the kids to work on.  I don't have pictures.  Julia topped hers with tomato sauce, sliced fresh mozzarella, sauteed mushrooms, and zucchini coins I'd sauteed earlier.  Alex spread a thin layer of sauce, then added mostly sliced pepperoni, some zucchini, and small pieces of cheddar.

I made another pizza (it was SO HOT in our house by this time, what with all the cheesemaking earlier in the day, and the pizzas baking, and the chowder cooking away on top of the stove) – oh, yeah, speaking of hot in the kitchen – I had also roasted 8 heads of garlic in the morning.  I squeezed all the garlic out and pureed it.  I'll freeze some and keep the rest handy.  I love the stuff. 

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I made another pizza - pureed roasted garlic smeared on the dough first, topped with sauteed mushrooms (a blend of oyster, crimini and shitake) and ricotta, then drizzled with olive oil.  THAT one was pretty tasty, I have to say.

And I made one final pizza, but we were too full to eat it that night.

I'd bought garlic scapes at the Farmers' Market that morning, and I wanted to use them on a pizza.  I sauteed the garlic scapes in butter, salt and pepper earlier.  When I made the pizza, I topped dough with a nice smear of the roasted garlic puree, then "artistically arranged" several of the garlic scapes on top, arranged bits and pieces of fresh mozzarella here and there and added ricotta in and around the mozzarella.  Then I placed 7 of the raw little necks in the loops of the garlic scapes, drizzled it all with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. 

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It smelled really really good while it was baking but, like I said, we were just too stuffed to eat anything more. 

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We saved it and had it last night (the 5th) for dinner after the kids were in bed.  It was fabulous.  The two "shades" of garlic – the roasted garlic puree and the sharper scapes…the soft, mild cheeses…and the occasional brine of the clams. 

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Heavenly.

14 thoughts on “Ricotta and Mozzarella: Practice Makes Perfect (Better Still, Practice Makes More Cheese)

  1. Good lord, all that cheese and cookery. Sounds like boatloads of fun. I’ve got to start learning about mozzerella, that just looks too neat to not try it. The braided bread with cheese is beautiful.

  2. WOW! Where do you live ’cause I am coming for a visit, lol! I just love visiting your blog and seeing all the goodies you make. When we move and I get settled it will be time to start trying some of them. Thanks for posting and please keep it up, my mouth waters every time I see those pics.

  3. Mozzarella… YUM! Thanks to your great pics and instructions, I assembled my first batch of Ricotta this weekend! Eeeeeek – I made cheese!!! Thanks, as always, for sharing! btw – Where did you find that giant slotted spoon? I’ve searched locally with no luck. :/ thanks!

  4. Absolutely marvelous. My friends at work are really starting to develop a love/hate relationship with me and your blog — they’re coming up to me on a daily basis now, asking what new wonder you’ve documented in your kitchen.

    Keep up the good (and oftentime hot and messy) work!

  5. You are absolutely making me jealous. I have to order my mozarella kit soonest. I have bought the cheese cloth for the ricotta so next week its cheese making time. Thanks again for your inspiration.

  6. Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tell me- is pizza dough hard to make? I always buy mine at a bakery, but I would really like to make mine. I remember making one a long, long time ago, but I seem to recall it was very sweet, not like the kind I get at the good Italian bakeries aroundhere. Also, you should really consider teaching some classes around here. Please do. PS Happy Birthday!!!

  7. Beth, pizza dough is really easy to make, and I’ve got a recipe that was published in the journal several years ago. It was a grilled pizza dough from a chef who either had worked at Al Forno or was still there (can’t remember) – anyway, it’s very simple – 2 1/2 teaspoons of dry active yeast, 2 cups of warm water, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 5 cups of flour. Combine the yeast and water, let sit about 5 minutes til it proofs. Combine the salt and flour, and mix into the water/yeast mixture. Add more flour if you need to so the dough is not sticky. Knead either in a mixer or by hand til the dough is smooth. It will be kind of a soft dough. Let it sit in a bowl for fifteen minutes. Punch down and separate it into balls – whatever works for the size grill or pan you are going to use. Soak the balls of dough in an olive oil bath for half an hour or more. I think that’s what makes this dough so lush and soft and lovely to work with – all that olive oil. Have fun!

  8. Going to Virginina tonight,so I probably won’t try this until we get back. Thanks for the (non sweet) recipe!!!!!!!

  9. Oh, I am SO wanting to make cheese now (as if living in the dairy state weren’t inspiration enough)! This is definitely a project we’ll have to take up at our house.

    Can’t wait for tomatoes to ripen here so that we can tackle a mozza-basil-mato salad too!

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