Bronx Stretch: Freshly-made mozzarella

Music Pairing: Andrea Bocelli, Con Te Partirò

Story

As I (Aaron) was growing up in New York City, living at 66th and York, my family would make what I felt was an epic journey each Saturday. We would take the subway out to the Bronx and then walk around the famed Arthur Avenue area. For those of you who don’t know, it is known as the “Little Italy” of the Bronx. I have the fondest memories of the incredible bakeries, getting Jordan almonds and hearing spoken Italian, almost exclusively.  One of the most amazing experiences was going into the extraordinary cheese shops on the avenue and being taken into the back where the air was thick with salt and moist with the scent of dairy everywhere.  It was in this culinary mecca that I, at the age of 8, learned the Italian art of stretching mozzarella. Other than playing the violin and reading, it is one of the skill sets I have maintained the longest in my life although many would argue that today, I stretch far better mozzarella than I play the violin (or probably read, given that most of my books are audio these days:). This delicious cheese can and should be a meal in and of itself served with thin slices of salted tomato, fresh sourdough bread, chopped basil and maybe a side of pasta dressed with pesto,if you wish. Given its origins, we felt that its musical pairing should represent its culture and how better than with the endearing Con Te Partirò.

Recipe

  • 1+ cup fine salt per 80 ounce/2400 ml/.6 gallon bowl
  • Fresh cow’s milk curd
  • Water

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Prepare your salt-water brine. Fill a large bowl with slightly chilled water. Add salt. Size can be based on how much mozzarella you want to make however, it is important to add salt in the proportion of 1 cup per 80 ounces of water. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes occasionally stirring.
  2. Cut your curd into 3/4″ cubes on a cutting board and then place in a separate large bowl (this is the bowl in which you will “stretch” the mozzarella.)
  3. Boil water in a pot on the stove. Once water boils (212 degrees), wait several minutes until water cools to below a boil, approximately 190 degrees.
  4. Pour hot water over your curd cubes coating all of them using enough water to cause all of them to float in the water. Using a wood ladle, for about 3-5 minutes, move the cubes around the water so they come in contact with as much water as possible without compressing or combining the cubes. Cubes should get more “elastic” as time passes. The temperature of your water MUST be above 160 degrees as this is the temperature of pasteurization which is the process underway for your forthcoming mozzarella.
  5. Use the ladle to compress cubes together folding them in on top of one another as you gather large “balls” of curd. It is critically important to continually fold the cubes in on top of each other and fold in the larger balls in on themselves (this is trapping the milk inside which improves the quality of your ultimate mozzarella. If the cubes are not combining and staying separate, then the temperature of your water is too low and you should add more hot water. If they are combining too easily and becoming “stringy” then your water is too hot and you should add a little cooler water.
  6. Once you have several large formed balls of mozzarella, place the ladle aside and grab a ball (the water should be hot but just cool enough for you to touch). While keeping the ball under the water, begin to “stretch” it so that you form a long “rope” approximately 1/2″ in diameter. Then take one end of the rope, flatten it in your palm and begin to fold in on top of itself so that you recreate a ball. Once you have formed the final size of mozzarella ball you wish, just rip off the remaining rope, place the completed ball in your salt brine and use the remaining rope to create another ball. Repeat until you have used up all of the existing rope.
  7. When you place your ball in the salt brine, it should neither completely fall to the bottom of your bowl nor fully rise to the surface. It should generally remain suspended in the salt solution. If it falls easily to the bottom, you should increase the salt to your bowl and if it immediately rises to the top, you should add water (reducing the salt content of the solution).
  8. Leave your balls in the salt brine for approximately 3-5 minutes. Remove, place on a plate, adorn with basil and fresh tomato slices to taste and serve.

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