Friday, February 11, 2011

Pizza from scratch - including the cheese!

This evening I did something I would have thought impossible a few months ago; I came home from work at the normal time and made pizza for dinner, from scratch, including the cheese. Okay, I did use pre-made tomato paste - and I didn't milk the cow for the cheese or derive any of the other ingredients (I don't even have a flour mill - how disgraceful) but I did make the pizza dough and the cheese between work and dinner - and I thought that wasn't too shabby.

The reason for the cheesemaking was the arrival of a Beginners' Italian Cheeses Kit from the lovely ladies at Mad Millie - the kit has all the bits and pieces you need to make marscapone, ricotta and mozzarella, as well as instructions, and I've been watching jealously for months as motivated bloggers make their own cheese, so this was the helping hand I needed to launch myself into the realm of delicious cultured dairy products.

The only thing you need to buy is the milk, and maybe (probably) a new pair of rubber gloves (you might have some around but given their usual uses you may prefer fresh ones for your mozzarella) - you do need pots and pans and a slotted spoon and a colander, but most of those things are probably already stowed in the kitchen cupboards if you have a rummage. The kit even includes a thermometer, taking my kitchen thermometer count to four. Hmm...

To make a batch of mozzarella (I reckon a batch is equivalent to about 3 supermarket tubs of fresh mozzarella) you'll need 4 litres of unhomogenised milk - Anchor silver top from the supermarket will do the trick if you don't have a house cow (fun as a house cow sounds I'm not sure the Body Corp of our apartment building would tolerate one). The cheesemaking process is amazingly simple - I was really surprised. 

For mozzarella you need milk, citric acid, calcium chloride, rennet and uniodised salt. All ingredients except the milk come in the kit, and you can buy them individually from the Mad Millie website if you need to top up - though the kit has enough to last quite a while.

Now, steel yourselves, because if you haven't made this before I think you'll be surprised by just how easy it is...

You pop the milk and citric acid into your biggest saucepan, and heat to 13 degrees C (this took longer than I thought, I guess just because of the sheer quantity of milk - but still less than 10 minutes). When it gets to temperature, you add the calcium chloride, which you've dissolved in a little water, and keep heating (and stirring) to 32 degrees. Then you add the rennet (also dissolved in water), chuck a lid on it, and leave it for half an hour. The pictures above show the milk at 32 degrees - getting a bit curdled, but still more or less looks like milk (the big lumpy bits are cream, since it's unhomogenised - I'm uncertain as to whether I should have shaken up the milk bottle first so these were distributed, so feel free to shed some light on this if you know the answer!). When I unlidded my pot 30 minutes later, though, it looked like this:

So it must be true what the man on the Mainland ad says about cheesemakers - they just spend most of their time trying not to screw it up. ;-)

At this point you're supposed to be able to cut the curds - stick a knife in, straight down, then lift sideways, and the curd is supposed to cut cleanly, slip away, and the whey should rush into the space. I guess that is what happened - the curd was pretty solid and the whey definitely rushed in - though the curds are so irregularly shaped I wasn't sure if I was doing it right. It certainly doesn't look very appetising at this stage. ;-)

When the curds are ready (you just leave them for longer if they're not quite there when you first check) you cut them up into smaller bits - as best as you can given you'll probably be chasing them round the pot - and pop the pot back on the heat and bring to 42 degrees. The curd then gets scooped into a cheesecloth-lined colander (the cheesecloth is in the kit too) to drain a bit.

The last part, and most labour-intensive - though "intensive" is too strong a word to describe this - part of the process involves dunking the curd into hot water for 20 seconds, stretching and shaping the cheese, and then plunging into a bowl of icy salted water.

The stretching was weird - mostly I found the curd quite brittle, which is to say it didn't really stretch (the photos are of the first ball I did, which was the stretchiest - perhaps I should have refreshed my water to keep it hot) and I expected to spend longer doing this but I didn't seem to be achieving anything so didn't push it, and it seemed to work out so I presume I did it right. ;-)

Once it's all stretched and you've convinced it to take a round-ish shape you pop it in the ice water for 20 minutes, and it's ready - so with the waiting times it takes perhaps an hour and a half to two hours (depending on if you're trying to make pizza dough and entertain a guest in between times!) from milk to cheese, which is pretty good - very achievable - and if you must you could always make the cheese beforehand. ;-)

Our pizza was fabulously simple, to show off the delicious fresh cheese - tomato paste, basil leaves, and chunks of mozzarella. The mozzarella was melty and stretchy and delicious - good, honest food. We had a Greek salad as well (I need to learn feta next!), so it was a very fresh, summery meal.

Our dinner guest studied economics with Mr Cake at uni, so it seems appropriate to insert a cost benefit analysis here. ;-) The kit retails for $39.90, and makes about 15 batches of cheese (though actually some of the stuff, like the thermometer, will clearly last for much longer), so the per-batch cost (with a simplistic formula of (kit cost/number of batches), because I'm not an economist!) is about $2.66. The milk for the mozzarella was just under $10 - so about $12 for around 700g of fresh mozzarella, which would probably cost around $30 to buy - I call that a positive result. I'm not counting my time because a) that makes things really tricky and b) it was fun and now I get gloating rights. ;-)

So now the only puzzle is what to try next - I have already made marscapone (stay tuned for that - I did already use some in these blueberry marscapone turnovers) and Mr Cake is angling for some ricotta so we can have cannelloni - but I've got my eyes set on the soft cheeses kit, which makes haloumi and feta... Or maybe some Greek yoghurt? Have you made cheese? What would you make next if you were me?

Mad Millie kits and equipment is available online from, or from selected stockists nationwide.


  1. Such a useful post as I have have the exact same cheese making kit just waiting for me! Maybe next weekend! In the meantime please visit Toast where there is a little award waiting for you as pass around some blog love!

  2. Mid last year, I went down to Christchurch for a cheesemaking weekend. I learnt how to make mozzarella, feta, haloumi, camembert, ricotta, and a thick cultured yoghurt.

    I nursed those cheeses in a bag on my lap on the flight home. They were my babies! But I have to admit that since then I've only made mozzarella, and not that often.

    It is pretty special to serve cheese you've made yourself. I had some friends over and served little mozzarella balls with cherry tomato and basil leaves, and I was so proud to tell everyone I'd made the cheese :)

  3. Yum yum yum!

    Have been eyeing these up (they stock them @ Bin Inn) - must get one on my next trip :)

    I think you should make feta next...

  4. Wow this looked fantastic! I am one of those wierd people who doesn't like cheese with the only exceptions being mozzarella (so long as it's well cooked/melted) and parmesan (so long as it isn't raw). Any cheese in it's 'raw' form has made me gag since I was a child. However I still love the idea of making my own so I think I'll have to buy one of these kits. Thanks for the great informative post!

  5. I haven't made cheese, but I think I might be making a wee purchase from Mad Millie next week. Did oyu buy the kit only?. Do you really need their moulds etc?, or anything else to get started.

  6. Mairi, thank you! I'll keep an eye out to see your cheese, too, assuming it'll make its way into something bloggable. ;-)

    Kaz, yum, nothing like fresh mozzarella with basil and tomato. We made those for Christmas Day and grumbled at how expensive the cheese was. This year it won't be!

    Theresa, I do get through a fair bit of feta... Hmm, wonder where I could find some goat milk to make it properly tangy.

    Megan, I'm sure you could find myriad uses for marscapone and ricotta too - I am loving the marscapone for decadent treats.

    Sandra, the kit has everything you need for these cheeses, and for other soft ones. You only need moulds if you move into the harder cheeses. :-) It really does make it super easy!

  7. The feta and halloumi are both great, my only recommendation would be when you make the feta, cut down a bit on the salt that they suggest! I know it's meant to be salty, but the first time I made the feta and followed the instructions exactly I just found it too salty (it was fine after a little rinsing/drying/rebrining in lower salt brine!), the next batch I used about 3/4 of the salt suggested and it was fantastic. The feta is best in the first few days - after that I marinate it in oil and herbs/chilli, etc - and I've found the halloumi is best about a week after you make it - but still good straight away if you're like me and just can't wait:)

  8. Thanks! I will keep that in mind - glad to hear they worked out well for you. :-)

  9. Hi! I made mozzarella with that kit as well, and my mozzarella also was more brittle than stretchy!! Any ideas on why that might be?


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