As the temperatures get cooler, we’re all on the constant lookout for new activities to get us through the winter. And one quarantine project that’s caught our eye (and that we certainly can’t pass up!) is making cheese at home—in the Instant Pot.
Related Reading: Make This Easy 3-Ingredient Ricotta Cheese in Just Over an Hour
Claudia Lucero is the author behind “Instant Pot Cheese,” a handy guide to cooking up a wealth of cheeses in an Instant Pot—yes, the Instant Pot—without relying on extraneous tools. The cheesemonger promises that the multicooker’s accurate and consistent temperatures lend itself as the perfect appliance for the job. Armed with her easy-to-follow recipes, you can make those dark winter days a little brighter with the introduction of homemade paneer, ricotta, queso blanco, goat cheese, and cottage cheese.
Instant Pot Cheese: Discover How Easy It Is to Make Mozzarella, Feta, Chevre, and More, $16.83 on Amazon
Once you’ve mastered the basics, forge on ahead to some of the more complicated cheeses without fear, like burrata and feta. For those who are dairy-averse, worry not, as Claudia’s presents a host of dairy-free cheeses as well, like faux cheddar with chives and coconut milk yogurt.
Even if you do already have an Instant Pot, there are some other pieces of equipment you may want to procure to step up the cheesemaking process. Claudia encourages investing in an extra 3-quart stainless steel pot, thermometer, and fine cheesecloth. The other equipment she recommends having are items that are probably already stocked in your kitchen, like a sieve, measuring spoons, whisk, and storage containers.
Ahead, Claudia presents a recipe for quick mozzarella, using the hot-water stretching technique you often see cheesemongers wielding in Italian grocery stores. Practice is required to perfect the craft—especially because you have to get used to working in a hot water bath and stretching the curd—but the result is palm-sized balls of mozzarella that are undeniably salty and wonderfully soft.
Instant Pot Duo, $79 on Amazon
You’ll also need to do some shopping before getting started, as mozzarella requires citric acid, rennet, and non-iodized cheese salt (iodized salt prohibits bacterial growth that is essential in cheesemaking). Follow along with Claudia’s step-by-step images to see exactly what you should be looking for at each point in the process, and once the cheese has cooled, make sure to eat immediately.
Excerpted from Instant Pot Cheese © by Claudia Lucero, photography © by Kimberley Hasselbrink, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Quick Mozzarella (Hot-Water Stretching Technique) Recipe
Mozzare means “to cut off” in Italian; in mozzarella it refers to the action of pinching off or cutting off the shaped cheese balls once the curd is stretched. Whether you use the hot-water technique described here or the microwave technique on page 57, pasta filata (spun paste or stretched curd) cheese gets its characteristic texture from the stretching and folding of the curd. Practice is required to perfect this craft, but it is worth the effort and all the not-so-perfect cheese you might have to eat in the process!
The hot-water bath provides the consistent gentle heat that is necessary for stretching curd. The setup is a variation of the pot-in-pot technique used for the “under pressure” cheeses.
Local organic pasteurized milk or raw milk are your best choices. Low-fat cow’s milk will work, too. It will result in smaller yield and a rubbery cheese more like store-bought part-skim mozzarella. Fresh, good-quality goat’s milk will work as well. Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk.
- 1½ teaspoons citric acid, dissolved in ¼ cup cool, unchlorinated water
- 1gallon whole cow’s milk, not ultra-pasteurized
- ¼ tablet rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup cool, unchlorinated water
- 2 teaspoons cheese salt, adjust to taste
- 1 teaspoon herbs or spices (basil, pepper flakes, or others), optional
- Heating the Milk: Pour the citric acid solution into the 6-quart inner pot. Add the milk and stir thoroughly.
- Select Yogurt and adjust to Low. (See note below.) Set it for 30 minutes. While the milk is heating, line the colander with a double layer of damp (rinsed and wrung out) cheesecloth and place it either in a clean sink, or on top of the bowl if you plan to reserve the whey. Place the bowl and colander in the sink in case of overflow.
- Check that the milk has reached 90–95°F (32–35°C), then slowly stir in the rennet solution with about 15 strokes. The milk may already show clear signs of coagulation, but it needs to develop further. Turn off the base, take out the inner pot, and let the milk set for 10 minutes.
- The milk should now look like custard or yogurt. Test the curd by making a 2-inch cut with the knife. The cut should have sharp lines, and clear, yellow whey should fill the cut. If not, let the milk set for another 15 minutes. If it still doesn’t set, return the inner pot to the base, select Slow Cook, and adjust to Low. Heat the milk to 100°F (38°C).
- Note If your machine doesn’t have a Yogurt setting, you can use Slow Cook instead. In step 2, select Slow Cook and adjust to Low. Heat to 95°F (35°C), stirring occasionally. Check the temperature often; it will take from 10 to 20 minutes to heat, depending on how cold the milk is when you begin. In step 7, select Slow Cook, adjust to Low, and heat to 110°F (43°C).
- When you have solid curd, slice it into 1-inch pieces with the knife. Make cuts 1 inch apart across the pot and then cut in the other direction like a grid as shown. You will end up with long stacks of curd that are 1 inch thick.
- Next, use the knife at an angle to cut the curd stacks into roughly 1-inch pieces. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just want to cut the curd into similar-sized pieces. (See diagram below.) If the curd doesn’t look like shiny custard or yogurt but instead is clumps floating in yellow liquid, you’re still in good shape. Cut any large clumps into 1-inch pieces and proceed.
- Place the inner pot of curds back in the Instant Pot base and select Yogurt. Adjust to Medium/Normal and select 30 minutes (you won’t need all that time, but it safeguards against overcooking the curd and it is as low as the time will go in this setting). Heat the curds and whey to 110°F (43°C). Very, very gently move the curd cubes around while heating. Cut any pieces that are larger than 1 inch. Getting up to temperature should take 5 to 10 minutes. Check the temperature often and in several places in the pot. The curd pieces will visibly change as they heat. Look for the edges to lose their sharpness and for the curds to feel less slippery (when you pick up a piece). As they shrink, they’ll look less like yogurt and more like scrambled eggs.
- Take the inner pot out of the base when the temperature reaches 110°F (43°C). A couple of degrees give or take are okay as long as the curd looks and feels as described. Turn off the base. Continue slowly stirring the curd pieces and let them cook in the 110°F (43°C) whey for up to 10 minutes.
- When 90 percent of the pieces look like scrambled eggs, use the slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the cheesecloth-lined colander resting in the large bowl. Some of the last curd pieces may be tiny, and it’s okay to pour them into the colander along with the whey. Allow the curds to drain and mat together for 20 minutes. It’s helpful to lift the cloth and rock it to release more whey (remove some whey from the bowl if the curd is sitting in the liquid). Gently pat the drained curd to encourage matting.
- While the curds drain, prepare the hot-water bath. Wash the 6-quart inner pot, dry the outside, and place it in the Instant Pot base. Add the trivet and 6 cups of water. Place the 3-quart insert on the trivet. It will float, which is fine.
- Hot-Water Stretching Technique: Select Sauté and adjust to High. Bring the water to a simmer and reduce to Sauté/Low to maintain the heat.
- Prepare the ice bath: In a large bowl, combine 5 cups of cool water and half of the ice. Keep the extra cup of ice handy.
- Split the matted curd into four equal pieces in the colander. Put one piece in the 3-quart insert. It’s okay if it’s a little crumbly. The water in the 6-quart pot should be simmering so that the 3-quart insert is nice and hot. Let the curd warm up for 5 minutes or so without touching it. Gently use a spoon or your hands to fold the curd over two or three times and spread it out a bit so it’s flat — the point is to evenly distribute the heat. Pour off any whey that collects.
- Allow the curd to warm up for another couple of minutes. The curd temperature must be 135°F (57°C) to stretch properly. If you find it difficult to take a temperature reading, look at and feel the curd for signs of softening, using the spoon or your hands (the curd is hotter now, so rubber gloves are a good idea). This stage requires a slow and gentle heat, so be patient.
- Once the curd has softened, fold it twice, flatten it a bit, and drain any whey. Repeat if the curd does not feel melted and rubbery. When it gets smoother after folding, sprinkle ¼ teaspoon on the salt all over the curd as well as a pinch or two of any optional spices or herbs. Use the spoon or your hands to fold the curd over itself about 5 times inside the pot.
- Start stretching the curd with the spoon or your gloved hands. It should look slick and melted. You may need to reheat and fold the curd a few more times. Mozzarella stretching is highly dependent on proper heat, but every batch is different. Ideally, the curd should become springy and shiny but be patient with this part. It takes practice.
- Once you get the curd to stretch into a smooth rope at least 4 inches long, move on to shaping. Please note that heating dries out the final cheese, so you want to heat as little as necessary while shaping.
- Gather the curd into a lump with the spoon.
- Let the curd stretch over the spoon back into the pot.
- Gather it again and let it fall several times to develop the right stretch.
- To shape into balls, take a portion of curd and fold it over itself three or four times. Bend the stack into a ball shape and pinch the corners off with your index finger and thumb while gently twisting the ball (mozzare!) with the other hand. Enjoy the warm bite left in your shaping hand now — there’s nothing else like it! Finish the ball by neatly tucking in any ragged edges at the bottom.
- Dunk the ball in the ice bath immediately so it doesn’t flatten into a pancake with its own heat.
- Shape the remaining pieces of curd, adding more ice as the water cools. You can remove the mozzarella from the ice bath as soon as it cools and firms — less than 5 minutes. Place the cooled balls in a covered container as you work so they don’t get dry and waxy looking.
Header image by Kimberley Hasselbrink.