Cheese is ripe for discovery all year, but spring is a special time for those who are gaga over it. Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest, held in Asheville on April 23, brings fromage enthusiasts together to taste and learn through workshops and demos, including a mozzarella-pulling lesson offered by Lindsey Menendez of Copper Cauldron Cheese Co., a family-owned artisan creamery in Mars Hill. You can sample hers and others’ offerings at the festival, and you can also try making mozzarella at home with Menendez’s step-by-step instructions.
1 gal. milk (whole, creamline milk, not homogenized or ultra-pasteurized)
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
Liquid rennet (available online)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
Step 1: Pour milk into a large pot. Stir in vinegar. Turn heat to medium-high and continue to stir until liquid reaches 90°F on an instant-read thermometer (about 15 minutes). Remove pot from heat.
Step 2: Dilute one quarter teaspoon liquid rennet in a quarter cup distilled water. Pour diluted rennet into center of pot and, using a ladle in up and down motion, tap the bottom of pot five times. This movement fully incorporates the rennet but allows the milk to move as a solid mass, ensuring an even curd. Cover and set aside for five minutes.
Step 3: Once the pot cools, run the back side of your pointer finger down the inside wall of the pot and gently pull the curd away. If curd doesn’t loosen, let set another five minutes. Once set, use a long offset spatula or roast knife to cut the curd. (The rounded tip of offset spatula or roast knife will prevent scoring the bottom of the pot.) Start by making horizontal cuts from top to bottom in half-inch strips and ensure knife tip is reaching bottom of pot with each cut. Then, make vertical cuts from side to side forming a checker board pattern.
Step 4: Place pot over medium heat. While gently stirring, cook curd until it reaches 105°F. Once temperature is reached, remove pot from heat, cover, and let sit for five minutes.
Step 5: Using a fine-mesh sieve, scoop out curds from liquid whey. Gather curds in the sieve but don’t squeeze. Curds will naturally form into solid mass. Rest sieve over the pot and out of the whey for five minutes to allow drainage. While curd drains, bring a second medium pot of water to 185°F.
Step 6: Remove curd from sieve and gently break up mass into one-inch by one-inch pieces. Using a ladle, lower curd into hot water for one to two minutes until it begins to melt together. With food-safe rubber gloves worn over cloth gloves, gently gather curd under hot water until it makes a ball.
Step 7: Remove curd from water. Sprinkle top and bottom of curd with salt and shape into a disc. Fold curd by tucking the outside edges of the disc under itself, pushing it upwards through the bottom to form a ball. Do this for about 45-60 seconds. Be careful not to overwork the curd until it becomes rubbery. If curd cools or tears, return it to hot water for 10-20 seconds, then continue.
Step 8: Finally, pinch the bottom edges together and rub the underneath of the ball on the side of pot, under hot water, to seal. Remove the ball from water and place directly into an ice bath for five minutes. Enjoy right away or refrigerate in fresh water in an airtight container for up to one week.
Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest
Sunday, April 23, noon-4 p.m.
Highland Brewing Company, Asheville
Get Schooled - Copper Cauldron Cheese Co. offers spring cheese-making classes. See www.coppercauldroncheese.com for details.