If you’ve ever been browsing through a nice selection of cheese and stumbled across a container of stark-white curds simply labeled “mozzarella curds,” you may have wondered, “what do you do with those?”
We sell such a thing in our shop, and customers ask that same question at least once every day. While there are some people who enjoy eating the curds plain, I don’t recommend it. They aren’t quite like delicious, squeaky cheddar curds (especially the kind drizzled with oil, garlic, and herbs).
Mozzarella curds taste like milk—no salt. And they are slightly rubbery. Not my thing.
But you can take them home and transform them into pillowy, salty goodness. It’s not actually as difficult or intimidating as it might seem to stretch mozzarella in the comfort of your home.
Plus doing so is kind of like a gateway drug to learning how to make your own mozzarella curds at home. I guarantee it: stretch your own mozz once or twice, and you’ll be coming home soon enough with a cheesemaking kit and a gallon of milk, determined to turn that milk into mozzarella.
Sometimes the curds you buy at the store come with instructions; sometimes they assume you know everything. Either way, I have my own way of stretching mozzarella at home, and I’m pretty sure it’s easy enough that any beginner can do it, too.
First, procure your curds. You’ll want at least around a pound of them. Once you bring the curds home, keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
Boil a kettle (or a large pot, if you don’t have a kettle) of water. If you have a thermometer, you want the water to get to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Since I use a kettle to boil my water, I wait until the kettle—which is totally full of water, mind you—makes that shrieking steam sound at me.
For about a pound of unstretched curd, you want around one-third of a cup of sea salt. Have your salt measured and ready to go.
Also get out a large bowl—or two, if you have them. Stainless steel is going to be your best option, but it’s going to be OK if all you have is glass or Tupperware.
You will probably also want some gloves on hand. I bought a box of food-safe latex gloves online for super cheap, and I keep them for all of my cheesemaking adventures. I also have a pair of heat-safe, food-safe gloves specifically for really hot water.
Once your water is boiling, scalding hot, pour it into your bowl. Add the salt and allow it to dissolve in the water. Then add your curds, ensure that they are totally covered with water, and wait.
When you first add the curds, they will look all curdy. As in, they will still have their edges and will look like individual pieces.
But as the curds melt, their edges will be less visible, the butterfat will begin to leak out of them, and they will start to blur together. You should let them sit for about five minutes, depending on how many curds you have and how hot the water was.
You will know the curds are melted when, if you gently drag them toward each other with your gloved hand, they stick to one another and don’t drift apart again. This sticking-together is called knitting, and you want your curds to knit in order to stretch them.
The Big Stretch
Let’s be honest: you’re not actually doing anything that remotely looks like stretching when you stretch mozzarella curds. You’re mostly guiding them together into the proper shape; sculpting, as it were.
I’ve seen a lot of different directions for stretching your own mozzarella at home: from step-by-step instructions on how to yank and pull the curd into submission, to hand-drawn diagrams complete with arrows.
Really, what you want to do is scoop up only as much of the melted curd as you want to turn into a ball, allow it to fall into a roundish shape in your hand, squeeze it off from the rest of the curd, and call it a day.
Each time you create a ball, plop it into icy water, and then stick all your balls into the fridge. You want them to get nice and cold before you do anything to them; they’ll firm up and hold their shape that way.
You don’t actually have to turn the melted curd into balls, though. You can flatten it out into a sheet on a baking pan, and then roll it up with tomato sauce and basil and salami inside. Or you can pull fingerfuls of it straight out of the water and sprinkle them over a pizza or hot pasta.
Once the curd has been melted and salted, it’s ready to eat. Turning it into balls is an extra step—but one that makes the curd more user friendly later on.
I’ll also add that while you can stretch the curd directly in the bowl of hot water in which it melted, you can also take it out and put it in an empty bowl to do the stretching. I prefer the illusion of control the empty bowl provides, but both methods will get the job done in roughly the same way.
I made a quick and totally un-glamorous video the other night while I stretched some mozz for a pizza. It definitely looks like I’m doing more to the melted curd than I really am, I swear. But hopefully the basic idea is more visible in the video. Check it out:
So the next time you’re at the store and you see those milky white curds, just waiting to be heated and stretched, think of all the possibilities awaiting them in your kitchen!