As a culinary school grad, I’ve made countless things from scratch, both sweet and savory. But one thing I had never tried my hand at before was cheese-making. It had always seemed pretty elusive, and books on the subject tend to be filled with diagrams straight out of a high-school chemistry book (not my best subject back in the day.) But I do likeeating cheese. So when the opportunity came to take and review a mozzarella-making class through CourseHorse, a start-up for finding and booking classes all around New York, I was pretty excited.
The class was held at Murray’s Cheese, where I’ve dropped a sizable chunk of change over the years. But the class was the first time I visited the classroom upstairs (it’s pretty spacious with a window that looks over the shop). The tasting portion was already set up when we walked in, with a slate board of various mozzarellas and a glass each of sparkling and red wine behind it.
We started off by sampling the cheeses, starting with just the curds, which is basically coagulated milk, or milk in its solid form. They’re the basis for mozzarella-making and the ones that look like bits of tofu at the top of the board above. They’re very, very bland, but edible.
We went around the board, sampling lightly salted mozzarella, burrata, mozzarella di bufala, and smoked mozzarella. Each had its own distinct characteristics, but the one that stood out for me was the burrata, which is so buttery it melts in your mouth. Burrata is usually imported from Italy, but this one was from a family-owned farm in Bennington, VT that hired a Puglian cheesemaker just for the burrata. We learned that its advantage over Italian-imported burrata in NY is that we can get them right after they’re made, which is really advantageous for cheeses that have a short shelf life.
Our instructor for the class was Sascha Anderson, the director of education at Murray’s. After the tasting portion, she then showed us a short demo of making the curds. Next came the fun hands-on part. We each got a bowl of curds to immerse in brine for a few minutes to warm them up. Then one of the class assistants came around and added 140 degree F water to the bowls. And yes, we stuck our bare hands in them, very very carefully. (Gloves were offered, but they apparently slow down your reaction time to the heat.)
Basically, we had to stretch and kneed the mozzarella while keeping most of it submerged in hot water at a given time. After a minute or two, my hands got more used to the water temperature, but we still had work quickly and carefully. After stretching the cheese, we then rolled them into a ball shape, tucking in the fraying parts to produce a nice, seamless ball of mozzarella. It was actually much easier than I thought. I did run into a snafu of my curds snappy in half, but the instructor just cheerfully told me to roll one part over the other. Easy fix!
So we all came away with a light appetizer of cheeses and wine, a ball of mozzarella to eat or cook with within the next week, and a tub of extra cheese curd to make mozzarella again at home. I loved that the class was such a friendly, easy intro to cheese-making. The course pack did, of course, have some requisite chemistry diagrams for those who were curious, but thankfully I didn’t have to decipher any of them to actually make my cheese.
The next day, I had a few fresh slices to taste, then put the rest on a homemade pizza. It was delicious both ways.
Oh yes, one final thought. See those tomatoes above? They are amazing. They’re from the bulk foods section of Murray’s among the olives, and easy to overlook. But if you happen to be in the West Village, stop in and buy a scoop or two. They’re made from very ripe tomatoes that were then frozen to draw out even more sugar, then slow-roasted. They’re the ice wine of tomatoes, as someone in class mentioned. I actually can’t even describe how amazing they are. You’ll just have to see for yourselves!