There are two ways to make mozzarella cheese: From scratch, where you make your own curd from fresh milk; or from premade curd, you purchase from your local farmer, select grocery stores, or online (search for “fresh mozzarella curds”).
Either way, know that the better quality your milk or curd, the better your cheese will be.
With such a simple process and so few ingredients, there’s nowhere in a fresh mozzarella recipe for subpar ingredients to hide.
Start with the Right Milk
To make the cheese from scratch, source your milk and any types of milk from a reputable farmer at the farmers market, or buy the best quality milk you can find in the grocery store.
If you prefer organic products, you might want to work with organic milk; it shouldn’t make a difference in the cheesemaking process.
Note: Avoid milk that has been UHT (ultra-high temperature) pasteurized; its proteins are already broken down so much that it won’t become the thick curds you’ll need to make good mozzarella.
Rock the Rennet
To turn milk into cheese, you’ll need to coagulate the milk. In cheesemaking, that’s done with citric acid and rennet, which you can find online or at high-end grocery stores, co-ops, and some beer-making stores.
Rennet is a catalyst that works in the cheesemaking process and is used in some fresh and almost all aged cheeses.
It can be either vegetarian protein foods or non-vegetarian, so make sure you get the kind you want.
While citric acid comes in powdered form, vegetable rennet is best used in liquid form (or you can just crush a veg rennet tablet and dissolve it in water).
Fresh Mozzarella Recipe
Method #1: Making Your Own Curd from Scratch
- 1 ½ tsp citric acid
- ¼ rennet tablet or ¼ tsp liquid rennet
- 1 cup + ¼ cup chlorine-free water
- 1 gallon of milk (whole milk: pasteurized or unpasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt + more to taste
- Liquid measuring cup
- Non-reactive stockpot (enameled & stainless steel are best)
- Super long-handled spatula
- Cooking thermometer
- Sharp knife
- Slotted spoon
- Rubber gloves (not joking, this stuff BURNS)
- Cheesecloth (optional, but helps with straining)
- Microwaveable bowl (I prefer glass, so you can watch what’s happening)
- A metal bowl full of ice water
- Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoon citric acid with 1 cup water in a large, non-reactive pot.
- In a separate bowl, combine the rennet with 1/4 cup water, and set aside.
- Use non-super cold milk (let it sit out for a little so it isn’t refrigerator-cold. I don’t know why it just works better) and heat it in the pot with the citric acid until it reaches 90°F.
- Remove milk mixture from the heat, add your rennet mixture, and stir it with the long-handled spatula for 30 seconds. Let sit and don’t touch it!
- After five minutes, your card will look like a solid, with lots of liquid on the side. The solids are the curd, the liquid is the whey, and there’s still lots of whey in your curd at this point. If it hasn’t yet formed into soft tofu- or custard-like structure, let it sit a bit longer, covered.
- Using your sharp knife, cut the curd into squares by cutting long, parallel slices about an inch wide in one direction and then across, like a checkerboard. Be sure your knife is long enough to cut all the way to the bottom of the pot and try not to nick the pot’s surface.
- At this point, you’ve cut the curds, but you want them to release more of the whey. To do this, put your pot back on the stove and heat it slowly over medium heat to about 105° F. As the curds warm, they’ll clump together; you want to encourage this by stirring a bit so that the whey leaves behind bright white clumps of curd.
- After the curds reach 105°, remove them from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds (shaking off excess whey) into a microwaveable glass bowl or a strainer/colander lined with cheesecloth. You can lift the cheesecloth and squeeze it to coax out a little of the whey.
- Once you have your curds in the bowl, you’re going to microwave them on high for a minute. At this point, you should definitely have your gloves on, because you’re going to pull out the bowl from the microwave and start folding the curds together to make loose balls, squeezing off some of the excess whey in the process. Note: You can save the whey to bump up the protein factor in your healthy smoothies.
- Pop the lightly worked curds back in the bowl (without the whey) and put them back in the microwave until they reach 135° F (around 30-45 seconds. Err on the slightly cooler side to make sure you’re not overcooking them). Once they reach 135° F, they’ll be perfect for stretching.
- No microwave? No worries. You can “cook” the curd in salted simmering (not boiling) water. If you’re going to do this, I recommend you triple up their gloves or wear heavier duty gloves.
- Put the chopped curd into the water and let it warm up before “knitting” the curd together. This is done by moving them around the water with your heavily-gloved hands, gently pulling it like taffy, and pulling it up from the water in the same process that you would follow in step 10.
- To make fresh mozzarella balls, sprinkle salt onto the cheese, and feel free to double up on gloves if your hands are sensitive. Grabbing a section of the cheese curds (this will be the approximate end size of your ball). pull the curds out to about half your wingspan, then fold it back over on itself and repeat. As you do this, the curds should start to firm up and become harder to stretch. Don’t overwork your mozzarella! As you stretch and fold, consider the ball it will become, and try to make it into that shape.
- Once you have your ball, set it gently into the ice water and make another ball of mozzarella. Reheat the curds in the microwave or hot bath as needed to get to 135° F.
- If you want to make smaller balls of mozzarella, simply use less curd for stretching each time.