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Cheese.  It’s one of the things I miss the very most about Italy when we are not there. Cheese has always been one of my major food groups (others: vegetables, fruit, rice-bread-potatoes, and chocolate; I believe that adds up to the requisite five). We are spoiled in Italy – the Italian Cheese book put out by Slow Food (edited by Rubino, Sardo and Surrusca) describes 293 different kinds of cheese. Granted some of these are kissin’ cousins: add a little smoke to fresh mozzarella and you have smoked mozzarella, two different cheeses but close relatives. Still, you can eat a different cheese every day in Italy and not run out for almost a full year.

Speaking of mozzarella, it is the comfort food of the cheese world.  Soft, not really bland but not challenging, it goes with everything. On its own with a bit of oil, salt and basil it is the perfect first course. Mix it into pasta, make a sandwich, put cubes of it in your salads, make pizza – there’s little that is not improved by the addition of fresh mozzarella.

Photo courtesy of Woodstock Water Buffalo Company

Photo courtesy of Woodstock Water Buffalo Company

Sad to say it is almost impossible to find it here in the States (unless you live near Quebec). And when you do find it, it is generally shrink-wrapped with a token amount of liquid, not swimming in the briny water it prefers. Store-bought mozzarella here is of dubious age and provenance, not like Italy where we know it has come from very nearby, unless it is mozarella di bufala – then it is made from the milk of water buffalos (see the winsome face above) from ‘the south’ – Campania, Lazio, Apulia or Molise.

Map courtesy of understandingitaly.com

Map courtesy of understandingitaly.com

What to do about this sad lack in our lives? You already know the answer – we decided to make our own. Thanks to Emma Christensen’s delightful website thekitchn we discovered that mozzarella is not only easy to make, it’s FUN to make. Basically all you need is a gallon of milk, some citric acid and rennet (readily available online) and about an hour.

making mozarella

The hardest part of the exercise for Speedy and me was getting the temperatures right; but evidently we didn’t do too bad a job. In the photo above you see the milk, to which has been added the citric acid and rennet, coming up to temperature. Curds and whey are already forming – this so so much fun!

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Once the curds had clumped up we separated them from the whey (Emma suggests using whey for bread-making, soups, smoothies and so forth) and… microwaved them! I know – we were really surprised too, but it turns out to work very well. We had to bring the cheese up to an interior temperature of 135 F in order for it to become elastic.

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After that it was a simple matter of adding salt and ‘kneading’ to make the cheese elastic and glossy.

making mozarella-006

Our finished ‘balls!’ I’m not sure why ours flattened out so much. Perhaps we left too much whey in, or perhaps we didn’t knead enough – or too little – or perhaps we were off on our temperatures (a new instant thermometer is on the shopping list). In any event, they taste just fine. Maybe not quite as good as what we buy in Liguria… but maybe so.*

Now… what to do with 3 quarts of whey. If only we had a pig…

*Honesty compels me to admit our cheese was a bit strange.  The balls didn’t hold their shape; instead they flattened out into large discs.  The texture of the cheese was denser than we expected, though the flavor was just fine, sweet and rich.  Bottom line: we need to do this again!

A week later and a second try: better, but still not *perfect*.