The Barefoot Kitchen Witch has done it again!
We've featured a couple of Jayne's posts about making cheese because she's just so good at it (farmstead cheddar and feta)! She first started doing it a couple of years ago and she took to it like a duck to water-in other words, she rocked!
In the beginning, Jayne was a careful follower of directions, but now she's gotten creative with it and she's having a lot of fun. Here's her latest amazing achievement:
Homemade Smoked Mozzarella
By Jayne Maker (The Barefoot Kitchen Witch)
Actually, I wasn't quite this far along when he got home - the cheese was still in the smoker.
But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Yesterday morning I wrote the second post in my little series on making bacon, and after looking at all the pictures of meat smoking, I could practically smell it.
It made me hungry.
And at some point, somewhere between 11:30 and 12:00, I believe, I suddenly thought:
"I should try to make smoked mozzarella!"
So the first thing I did was make some mozzarella.
Pretty simple: A gallon of milk, 1 1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup water, 1/4 of a rennet tablet, crushed and dissolved in 1/4 cup water. I'd let the milk sit out because I'd been planning to make either ricotta or mozzarella that day, so it wasn't refrigerator cold by the time I got started. I poured it in my pot, added the dissolved citric acid, stirred, and heated it to 90 degrees F. Then I gently stirred in the dissolved rennet and brought the temp up a little more (to 100F). Then I shut the heat off and let the pot sit for another five minutes or so while the curds and whey continued to separate.
I've made mozzarella a lot lately. And yes, it gets easier and easier. So much so that I cannot bring myself to buy fresh mozzarella in a store. I can make my own in about half an hour for less than half the cost.
There are a couple of moments in the process that are particularly satisfying. To me, anyway.
First - the stage above, after the rennet has gone in and you continue to heat the milk a bit more until the curds separate from the whey, and you can see that clear, definite break between the two. The curds all huddle together in the center of the pot, and around the edges the whey is totally clear and clean-looking.
And then I put the bowl in the microwave for a minute.
And doesn't my hand look…weird? Like a bus ran over it or something? It's probably because I am not left-handed, but for picture-taking-purposes, I have to work with the left hand so I can hold the camera and shoot with the right.
And it leads to disconcerting images of my mangled hand.
cheese salt which may be used as well.)
The look and feel of the mass of curds changes. It goes from this rather shaggy, messy mass to smooth, shiny, stretchy cheese.
Kneading is relaxing. Even wrong-handed.
I made little balls of mozzarella rather than one larger form because I didn't know how long it would take to smoke, and I figured smaller = quicker, relatively speaking.
I also figured that if I started the cheese very cold, it would take a while for it to warm enough to melt, and maybe, if I was lucky (or incredibly clever and resourceful), the cheese wouldn't melt at all.
Actually, first I looked for the little instruction booklet that had come with the smoker. It's usually with the few grilling and smoking books we have, but it wasn't there today. I wanted to know what temperature the inside of the smoker would go to. I figured the cheese shouldn't get too hot, otherwise it would melt through the rack and make a horrible mess and - worst of all - I'd have to clean it.
Since I couldn't find the book, I went online and read somewhere that most electric smokers used by regular ol' folk like myself run about 170 degrees F.
Well, I figured if I allowed a lot of the heat to vent out an opening near the top of the smoker, that would (maybe) keep the temperature down. I was thinking around 90 degrees would be nice.
So at first I thought I'd just lean the door (actually it's one whole side of the smoker, and you can remove it) against the smoker and leave an area about two inches wide at the top.
So I filled the little pan with cedar shavings (sawdust, really - from when we replaced shingles last year), and a couple of small pieces of mesquite. No idea if that was a desirable blend for cheese, but I didn't really care, either. I was experimenting.
So I went inside, in search of something to put on top of the rack.
None of the cooling racks would really work…I thought about using one of my plastic cheese molds, but I didn't want to risk damaging it OR having it smell like smoke forever…
I finally settled on several layers of cheesecloth. It would allow the air (and smoke) to circulate all around the little balls of cheese, but it wouldn't allow any soft cheese to slip through to the tray below.
So I dumped the cheese back in the ice water, took all my stuff outside, put the rack in the smoker, and arranged the little cheese balls so none were touching.
So I set the door aside and came up with another plan.
The cheese was on a rack in the middle of the smoker, and the heating element and the little pan of shavings and smoking wood were at the very bottom.
The smoke and heat would rise, traveling up through the balls of cheese, and escape through the little hole on top of the smoker AND the larger vent I'd just created.
At first I was sort of new-motherish about the cheese…scurrying out to make sure nothing bad was happening inside the smoker.
But - happy me - nothing bad was happening.
I wondered if I was letting too much heat escape, or too little…and it bugged me enough that I dug out the thermometer we sometimes use on smoked pork butt to monitor the internal temperature without having to open the smoker over and over.
I dangled the probe in through the hole in the top of the smoker and left the display part on the edge of the deck rail.
I added a little more cedar shavings to the pan to create some more smoke, and then told myself to leave it alone for a longer stretch of time.
Stop babying the cheese, Jayne! It'll be fine! Just fine!
I've got pellicle! Well, maybe not exactly, but it's a lot like it.
What's pellicle? Well, when you're smoking cured fish or meat, it's a kind of dryish, tacky layer that develops on the surface of the cured, rinsed, dried meat (or fish). The smoke kind of clings to it as it passes by, and where there's pellicle, you get that dark, smoky look.
I hadn't cured the mozzarella, but there was certainly a smoky look appearing.
It's not so easy to see in the picture immediately below, but I liked the image so I included it. If you want to see the smoky look, move down the next shot.
See the tan color? YAY! SMOKE!
Only here I ran into a smidgen of a problem.
The cheese hadn't melted, per se, but it was definitely soft on the inside. The outer "skin" that had developed was holding the melty part in, and when I tried to liberate one cheese ball from the cheesecloth, I had problems. The bottom skin of the cheese stuck to the cheesecloth. Hm. Not good.
I still needed to taste the cheese, and since I'd already kind of destroyed this one ball, I figured I'd just go ahead and eat it.
Here it is.
Fyi - yum. I shared it with Bill and Julia.
"Mom, it tastes like ham!"
Yes! That's the smoke, my little taste-tester!
So I put the cheesecloth and cheese in the fridge for a few hours. (This worked out well, because Alex had a Little League playoff game AND Julia had her end-of-the-year gymnastics recital/demonstration, and we all had to leave the house anyway.)
In the picture below, I've got a few of the little mozzarella balls, including one upside-down so you can see how the bottom turned out. You can see a darker smoky area and the indentations from the rack.
I love experiments that work out nicely like this!
Didn't think so.
Well, nothing. After snacking on the slices, I put the cheese back in the fridge. Tonight, however, I'll be making something with it.
Not sure yet what that will be.
Maybe I'll just dice it and add it to a warm pasta salad.
Or maybe I'll get some really good crackers and we'll just eat it sliced.
Or I could make a smoky lasagna.
Whatever I end up doing, I'll let you know.
Yay, smoked mozzarella!