Fior di Latte translated as Flower of Milk is the name used to describe Mozzarella cheese made from cows milk, as opposed to Mozzarella di Bufala which is made with buffalo milk. It is made using the the Pasta filata or spun paste method, also known in English as the stretched-curd or pulled-curd technique.
Making fresh Fior di Latte Mozzarella by hand has to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It took me ages to do all the research; track down the necessary ingredients and suppliers (not that easy in SA) and translate the scientific mumbo-jumbo into English before I could try my hand at this.
I have by no means perfected this art form yet, but I now have a basic understanding of the process and can produce a fairly decent cheese. Judging by the feedback I got on the various social networks while trying this out, it looks like my readers would like to know more about this process, what kind of kit you need etc. I’ll run you through the basics, and share what I’ve found so far, but please bear in mind that this is by no means an exact recipe, just an introduction to Mozzarella making.
First off, let’s talk about the supplies you’ll need. I got most of the stuff that I didn’t already own from Finest Kind. They have everything you need to make all sorts of cheeses, yoghurts and butter. They will also supply you with their Mozzarella recipe when you buy your goodies from them. The items in the lists below marked with an asterisk (*) were purchased from them.
- 1 Large stainless steel pot, capable of holding at least 10 liter of milk
- 1 Large knife, with a blade equal in length to the height of your pot
- 2 Large wooden spoons, which should only be used to make cheese
- 1 Stainless steel ladle
- 1 Small glass or stainless steel bowl.
- 1 Large ice bucket or other container to keep iced-water in
- 1 Large storage container to hold the whey (if you plan on using it for other purposes later)
- 1 Submersible dairy thermometer *
- PH measuring strips, capable of measuring between 3.8 and 5.5 *
- Cheesecloth *
- 1 large colander
- 10 Liters of raw (unpasteurised) milk. This is probably the hardest thing to track down. You need to start working with the milk within an hour after milking, so you need a farm to source it from close at hand. Another hurdle is that it is technically illegal for farms to sell unpasteurised milk to the public, as it could pose a health risk if the milk was contaminated. Ask around until you manage to find a source, and when you do, keep it a secret, I sure as hell ain’t giving you mine!
- Starter cultures * – This is freeze-dried bacteria that is needed for the cheese making process
- Rennet * – This is needed to coagulate the milk, in order to separate the curds (solid) from the whey (liquid).
- 100ml or so distilled water (or you can boil some water for 20 minutes and let it cool again, we just need to get the chlorine out of it)
- Non iodised salt for brining (The iodine in normal salt will interfere with the bacterial growth)
First off you need to heat the milk to 32°C. Previously I used to use my stove to control the heat, until I got distracted by a phone call one day and overheated the curds, basically ruining the entire batch. I now regulate temperature by placing my pot in the sink, and adding hot or cold water to it, depending on my needs. This works way better as the temperature rises and falls more gradually, and also stays at the same temperature for quite some time if left alone. I encourage you to use the same method.
Once the milk is at 32°C you can add the freeze dried starter culture (the blue packet below) to the milk, and stir it through with a ladle. Let the milk stand at 32°C for 45 minutes. After that you can add the rennet (little bottle below) diluted in about 100ml or so of distilled water. Stir it through then stop the motion in the pot with the ladle, you want the milk to lie nice and still so it can coagulate properly.
The one recipe I used said let the milk stand for 45 minutes to an hour, but I did some more research online and came across the Flocculation method.
Basically you put a small (sterilised) bowl afloat on the milk just as you add the rennet, then start a timer. Initially, when you gently nudge it with your finger and try to spin the bowl, it will spin and glide across the surface of the milk with no resistance.
At some point (the aim is to get this around the 15 minute mark) it will start providing some resistance, and shouldn’t spin or move with a gentle nudge. Make a note of the time on the timer and multiply that by 3. That is how long you should let the milk stand from the moment you added the rennet.
Most of the research I’ve done says that the ideal time for the flocculation point is 15 minutes, but the actual time will vary depending on a number of things, such as milk quality, rennet strength etc. If it takes you much longer, you can try adding a little more rennet next time.
Let’s say you hit it dead on and got to the flocculation point at 15 minutes, after 45 minutes its time to cut the curd!
Using your long knife cut the milk into roughly 1.5cm cubes (yes it will actually cut and feel almost like jelly). It was quite a weird sensation for me the first time, cutting milk with a knife, whatever will they think of next?
Cut down at a 45° angle as well to the cut the curds height wise inside the pot. You won’t be able to cut perfect cubes at these angles, but don’t fret about it too much. Let the curds rest at 32°C for 20 minutes.
Now you can start gently raising the temperature to 38°C, over a period of about 20 minutes, very gently stirring them every 5 minutes
Next you can pour off the whey, which you can use to make Ricotta, bake bread or rusks with etc. I will blog the Ricotta making process for you at some stage, rest assured it’s whey easier than this lot!
Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour some warm water over the cheesecloth, it will help to prevent the curd from sticking to it too much. Pour the curd mass into it and let it drain for about 5 minutes or so, until most of the whey has drained off.
Next, gently roll the curd mass out of the cheesecloth back into the pot. Put it back into a water bath at 32°C and listen up. The next stage is fairly scientific, so put down the wine for a second and pay attention.
The curds now need to acidify sufficiently to be able to stretch when heated, instead of just crumbling to pieces. The bacteria in the starter culture (we added earlier) will do that job for us by eating the lactose in the milk and converting it to lactic acid. We want the curds to reach a PH level of between 5.2 and 4.8.
This generally takes anything between an hour to 3 hours to occur, but will vary based on a number of variables. Get yourself plenty of measuring strips and test often, until you get the hang of this, and have a better idea of what you are doing.
When you reach the desired PH level (between 5.2 and 4.8) you can test for stretch by cutting off a piece of the curd, breaking it into four smaller pieces, then pouring covering them with 80°C water in a small bowl. Push it around a bit in the hot water using some spoons. If all goes according to plan it will melt together and stretch nicely when pulled apart. If the curds stretch we are in business, and ready for the next step!
Get a pot of 5 or so liters water going to 80°C on the side. Remove the curd mass from the pot, cut it up into roughly 2cm blocks and place them in a stainless steel bowl. Slowly pour the hot water into the bowl over the back of a spoon or small bowl, until the curds are covered.
Using the wooden spoons, stir the curds around and work them into a solid mass that you can eventually lift up out of the water (but leave it in there). It should start to stretch already. By this time the water will have probably cooled down too much, so pour out the water and cover the curd with some more 80°C water.
The salt can be added in two ways. One way is by adding it to the water now, and allowing it to be worked into the cheese. The other is by letting the balls soak in a 20% brine solution after you have formed them. I’m not yet sure which is better, but I am going with the first method, so I added and stirred in the salt with my second batch of hot water.
Continue working and stretching the curd. At some stage you will see it taking on a more shiny feel. That’s the sign that it is ready to be formed. Be careful though, 80°C water will burn your hands, so consider using gloves. As you can see by the redness in my hands below, I am way too tough for gloves.
To form the balls, stretch the curds into a long thick string then simply tear off a piece and work it into a ball with your hands. After you are happy with the shape of the ball, drop that sucker into some ice water to make it retain it’s shape.
After 10 minutes in the ice water you can remove it and you will have made lovely fresh Fior di Latte Mozzarella. It will taste kind of bland compared to the rubbery, yellow, factory produced stuff you may be used to, but I assure you it is a thing of beauty. It should taste a lot like milk, pure creamy goodness.
Fresh Mozzarella is absolutely delicious in salads, most famous of which is probably the Caprese salad, made with basil, mozzarella, tomatoes and good olive oil.
Another favourite way of using it is, of course, on pizza. Check out my review of the Earthfire Pizza Oven for some inspiration.
*Attention!* Some crazy fan of mine (thank you kindly, I do owe you beer) thought it a good idea to nominate me for the Eat Out Zonnebloem Produce Awards – Best Local Food Blog. Much to my delight I was shortlisted and am now a finalist. The competition is based on public voting, so if you feel I deserve the accolade, please head over here and give me a vote. I promise not to build another Nkandla if I win!
Since we are working with bacteria and foodstuffs here, it is critical that you sterilise all your equipment before and after use. You don’t want to go through all this hassle only to find at the end that your cheese went sour due to bad bacteria that got into the mix.
I clean all my tools with a very weak solution of sodium hypochlorite (found in household bleach) and water. Just be very careful to wash off and dry the equipment properly as you don’t want any of that stuff to stay on your equipment, or you will ruin the next batch. I also boil my stainless steel goodies in water just to be safe. Do some research online about sterilisation and work out your own routine.
Small children, pregnant woman, or anyone with a weakened immune system should probably be cautious of eating products made with raw milk. As it is unpasteurised, it could contain contaminants that could cause health issues. I’ve never experienced any such problems, but then again I have a stomach like a cement mixer. If you are unsure you can pasteurise the milk before hand, but I have never done that so can’t really comment on the effect it has on the end product. Google is your friend though, I am sure you will find the answers you need :)