I didn't realize that the Junket Rennet Tablets that I had just purchased for the purposes of making fresh mozzarella cheese had expired. By the time I discovered what the numbers on the top of the Junket box meant, which was that the tablets had expired in February, it was too late. I had already discarded a batch of would-be cheese that never produced good curds and another that never achieved a "clean break" -- the separation between the curds (the white matter on top) and the whey (the liquid beneath). You can picture my disappointment when my third attempt, this time with active rennet, did not yield a good result either.
During this effort, I could not get the cheese to roll into the smooth, shiny and pliable ball I was expecting. While the "mozzarella" cheese was delicious and attractive and could be molded and chilled into a firm ball, it lacked the elasticity and melting qualities of premium fresh mozzarella cheese, such as that sold in gourmet stores and cheese shops. After some exploration, I became convinced that my mozzarella problems rested squarely in the supermarket milk I had used. Although the milk was not ultra-pasteurized, that is, pasteurized to higher than normal temperatures (a no-no in cheese making); the milk still was likely to have been pasteurized at too high a temperature to make proper mozzarella curds.
Further study also revealed what cheese making experts have always asserted -- that to make good cheese, you have to begin with really "good (good for making cheese) milk." So, I began my hunt for "good milk" and, lo and behold, found it (grade A pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from Edgefield, South Carolina's Hickory Hill Farm) at a specialty market just a few miles from where I live.
Fortunately, after finding the milk, my fourth (and last) try at making mozzarella ended in triumph, with my cheese looking, tasting and behaving just the way good fresh mozzarella should. I cannot overemphasize what a difference using the non-homogenized milk made.
If you are eager to begin your own cheese making adventure but are worried about your ability to obtain the right kind of milk, you can start out by making creamy, fresh ricotta cheese, which is far more forgiving of the brand of milk you use. (I'll have that recipe for you next week.) Once you see how easy and satisfying it is to make your own fresh cheese, at home, you'll be hooked for life.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.