Mozzarella is water, curd and salt. It sounds really simple. But, as with many great things in life, what seems to be the most straightforward of operations takes you on a circuitous path. While the necessary ingredients are few, the magic of this product is in the finesse it takes to nudge it into a milky-soft product of awesome.
I truly live a life of luxury. On Sundays Joe goes to my parents house and actually makes this fresh for the whole family. We can take it home like party favors in 1 pound balls or as bocconcini in dairy swag bags. It gets shredded up on pizza, becomes the backdrop to thick tomato slices and basil leaves and more often than not is the scape goat of our post sunday dinner remorse.
Joe is sort of an uncle. He is married to my aunt but they didnt get married in a church and they dont live together on account of the difficulty of parking Joe’s car in my aunts neighborhood. And Joe needs his car because he is a traveling mozzarella maker. Like a cheese producing minstrel, he will come to your house and rock your world with his dairy product.
Joe has made thousands of pounds….maybe millions of pounds of this stuff. First for other Italians in Italian neighborhood corner delis in New York. Then at Stew Leonard’s for white American soccer moms who buy everything in bulk. He followed that by working the weddings and parties of rich people who want to illustrate how much they understand about the subtleties of genuine Italian cuisine. Now he services various places that buy his handmade cheese and put their stamp on to sell to their customers.
Recently I spent the morning with Joe watching him make mozzarella at a shop in White Plains.
His career in cheese started when he got a job working in a deli. As the counter boy the owner explicitly told him not to watch while he made the mozzarella. Joe is a smart ass and an enterprising immigrant, so of course he watched. He snuck a peek through the kitchen door to witness the super secret process. Add water to curd and mix. Simple.
Soon enough Joe got another job at a deli where they asked if he could make mozzarella. He convinced them he could- and he did. But adding water to curd and mixing does not tell the whle story of how to make really good mozzarella. While he was able to pull white, cheese-like balls from the water to sell to unsuspecting customers, the end product was abysmal. It was tough, dry and pitted.
Joe is irreverent about almost everything. He is frequently a pain in the ass and a know it all. But over the state of his mozzarella he greatly worried. According to him, he worried so much that one night he dreamed of making it, and as he tells it, he woke up with the inherent touch needed to craft the milky, soft cheese. Of course he may have spun this tale to release himself from the difficult task of actually practicing with me but I guess we will never know….
Start with very hot but not boiling water. Slice curd into the water and add salt. Allow the curd to soak in the salted water for a few minutes before draining. Once drained, add more salt and cover it with boiling water. The curd pieces will come together and you can knead it until it takes on a smooth sheen. Make a ball and pinch it shut without touching the outside. Just like clay, you dont want to leave unintentional prints on the surface
Timing is important. If the water is allowed to cool too much as you engage in the curd stretching the cheese will be tough.
Although these instructions are accurate and the video helpful, there is nothing that replaces repeating the process a couple of hundred times to reeeally get it right.