“Mary Karlin” Inspired Junket Mozzarella

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1 gallon pasteurized but not homogenized whole cow’s milk
7 tablespoons distilled vinegar
4 tablets junket rennet dissolved in ½ cup cool nonchlorinated water
1½ teaspoons plus ¼ cup kosher salt or cheese salt

In a 6-quart stockpot, slowly heat the milk to 88°F over low heat; about 20 minutes. Stir in the vinegar using a whisk in an up-and-down motion to incorporate thoroughly. Add the dissolved rennet and gently whisk in for 1 minute.

Slowly raise the temperature to 90°F about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest, maintaining the temperature for 1 hour, until the curds form a solid mass of bonded small curds the consistency of soft tofu. Check for a clean break (see note), and if there isn’t a clean break, check again in 15 minutes.

Cut the curds into ½-inch pieces and let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes, maintaining them at 90°F. Over low heat, raise the temperature to 108°F over 15 minutes, gently stirring every 5 minutes or so and frequently checking the temperature and adjusting the heat as needed. Once 108°F is reached, remove from the heat and, using a rubber spatula, gently stir for about 10 minutes around the edges of the pot and under the curds to move them around and expel more whey.

Let the curds rest for another 15 minutes. At this point the curds will be slightly below the surface of the whey. Gently press one of the curds between two fingers. It should feel springy and stretchable; if it doesn’t, leave the curds for 10 minutes and then test again.

Line a colander with damp butter muslin, set it over another pot, and scoop the curds into it with a slotted spoon. Let drain for 15 minutes, or until the whey has stopped dripping and the curds are compacted together. Reserve the whey.

Add the 1½ teaspoons of salt to the whey and stir to dissolve. Slowly heat the whey over medium-low heat to 175°F to 180°F; this should take about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, wrap the muslin over the curds and place the packet on a cutting board. Flatten the curds and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Open the muslin and cut the slab of curds into ½-inch strips or chunks.

Place a handful of curd chunks in a slotted spoon and, wearing heat-resistant gloves, dip the utensil into the hot whey for several seconds, melting the curds until stretchable. Using your fingers and working quickly, knead the melted curds in the utensil, dipping it back into the hot whey as needed to keep the curds pliable.

When the curds are kneaded into a firm ball, pull and stretch them into a small rope and fold them over onto themselves, repeating a few times until the ball of curds is smooth, pliable, and shiny. Don’t overwork the curds, or you’ll toughen the cheese. Shape the curds into a ball and place it in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes to chill and firm up. Repeat.

Make a light brine by dissolving the ¼ cup of kosher salt in the hot whey, then chill.  Place the chilled cheese in the brine for 2 hours. Use immediately for best flavor, or store in the salted whey, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

Note: Using a sanitized long-blade curd cutting knife (or whatever you have on hand, perhaps a chef knife), make a short test cut at a 45-degree angle to observe the firmness of the curds. If the cut edge is clean the curds are ready to be cut into their proper size.

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