It’s a rare day on the cheese counter that we mongers don’t dip into our bucket of fresh mozzarella from the Mozzarella House at least a couple of times. This small operation in Everett supplies Formaggio Kitchen with most of its fresh cow’s milk mozzarella and burrata. My fellow cheesemonger, Jess, and I recently dropped in for a visit to their cheese room. While we never pass on a chance to match faces, places, and processes to our products, we had an additional motive behind this visit to Mozzarella House. Jess, who’s worked as a cheesemaker in France and Washington, is teaching a series of cheesemaking classes in February. Our time with the pros at Mozzarella House gave her a chance to refine the mozzarella technique she’ll use in the course. Mozzarella House owner, Giuseppe, was kind enough to let us have a look around the facility, as well as share some background on their process.
Mozzarella House sources all of its milk in a raw state from local farms, located mostly on the North Shore. Upon arrival, it goes into a large vat for what could be called a kinder, gentler pasteurization. The milk is heated to a lower temperature than it would be for regular pasteurization, and then kept at that point for a longer period of time. This, as Giuseppe explained, kills any harmful bacteria that might be lurking, but allows beneficial flora that provide flavor and nuance to survive.
Next up for the milk is time in another large heated vat, where it mingles with a bit of rennet enzyme and starter culture—a process called setting the curd. The rennet causes the milk proteins to coagulate and expel moisture, forming a soupy mix of solids and whey. Up to this point, the mozzarella-making process is quite similar to most other cheesemaking methods. However, instead of draining and molding the fresh curd, as for other cheeses, the next step is where mozzarella diverges sharply from its milky brethren.
We watched as Rosa, an experienced mozzarella maker, shuttled baskets of curd from the vat to a giant kettle, followed by several pitchers of hot water. The water needs to very warm (about 175 degrees) to make the curd pliable enough for the next step—stretching. She stirred the mixture until the curds softened, forming an elastic mass that came off the sides of the paddle in large sheets as she lifted and mixed.
Once the curd was properly unified, she reached into the hot water, yanked up a sizable strand, and nimbly started tucking, folding, and pinching. With a few quick movements of her thumb and a squeeze of her forefinger, she tossed ball after ball of perfectly smooth, lemon-sized chunks of mozzarella into a tub of cold water beside her. After a bit, she slowed down her process enough that Jess and I could try to mimic her. We got to try our hand at standard mozzarella balls, as well as their decadent, cream-filled cousin, burrata.
Let’s just say I’m quite a few pieces of cheese away from being as dexterous as Rosa—my chunks went into a “special” tub since they weren’t quite up to snuff aesthetically. On the bright side, we ended up with a decent collection of lopsided but otherwise perfectly tasty mozzarella and burrata to bring to Eduardo, Formaggio Kitchen’s head chef.
Many, many thanks to Rosa and Giuseppe for their hospitality, tutelage, and patience!
Erin Carlman Weber is a cheesemonger, charcuterie alumna and the classroom coordinator at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge. She is currently pursuing a Masters in the Food Studies program at Boston University.