Hands-on activity: Let's Get Cheesy!

homemade italian mozzarella recipe example

If you enjoyed making your own Neapolitan margherita pizza, you may want to take your culinary skills to the next level by making your own mozzarella. One of our Group Leaders, Jillian, shared her homemade Italian mozzarella recipe with us, and we couldn’t wait to share it with you! As you might have seen in our pizza recipe, mozzarella originated in the south of Italy by taking fresh, non-pasteurized buffalo milk, heating it to just the right temperature, and adding a few additional ingredients. After the milk undergoes several transformations, the final step is to stretch and pull the cheese by hand until it’s ready to eat or chill for future use.   

At first glance, mozzarella seems easy enough to make. You don’t need any fancy equipment and it doesn’t require too many ingredients. From there you just combine the ingredients, separate out the liquids, then stretch the leftover solids like taffy until you’ve got the string cheese that no road trip or snack box is complete without. But take a closer look and you’ll see that to get it right, you’ve got to keep a close eye on critical transformations and your cooking thermometer. Whether you remain an amateur mozzarella maker or become an expert, we hope you enjoy this adventure into cheese making! 

Before we get started, let’s review some vocabulary:

  • Rennet: an enzyme used to coagulate milk and form the curds that evolve into cheese. You can buy animal-based rennet or vegetable-based rennet.   
  • Curds & whey: these are two proteins found in milk. When rennet is added, it drops the milk’s PH, causing the milk to separate by forcing some of the casein protein to clump together into curds while the whey protein remains in liquid state.   
  • Citric acid: a chemical compound found naturally in citrus fruits, it helps reduce the PH of milk which makes stretching easier.  

Tips & tricks: Making mozzarella is a combination of art and chemistry. You’ll need the right equipment and ingredients and you’ll have to pay close attention to the temperature of the milk as the curds separate from the whey and transform into the stretchy delight of mozzarella. Keep in mind, this is science and science is a process of trial and error. Most importantly, remember to just have fun. 

Equipment needed: 

  • Stainless steel pot (avoid aluminum and cast iron, must hold one gallon of liquid) 
  • Slotted spoon  
  • Ladle 
  • Knife (doesn’t need to be sharp, but should be long enough to reach the bottom of the pot) 
  • Thick rubber gloves for pulling the cheese 
  • Colander 
  • Cooking thermometer 
  • *Microwavable bowl (optional if using a microwave to separate the whey)

Ingredients needed: 

  • 1 gallon whole milk (you can use homogenized or non-homogenized milk, but avoid ULTRA-pasteurized milk) 
  • ¼ cup non-chlorinated water (chlorine will prevent the enzyme reaction. You can filter your tap water, or use spring or distilled water if your town chlorinates your tap water.) 
  • 1½ tsp citric acid 
  • ¼ tablet rennet (¼ tsp if using liquid) 
  • Salt 



  1. Gather your equipment and ingredients on a clean counter space. 
  2. Crush ¼ tablet rennet (if using) then add it or ¼ tsp liquid rennet to ¼ cup coolnon-chlorinated water. Set aside. 
  3. Dissolve 1½ tsp citric acid into another ¼ cup of cool, non-chlorinated water.   

Turn on the heat: 

  1. Combine the citric acid solution you’ve just made with one gallon of milk in a large stainless steel pot. Heat your milk slowly on medium heat to 88-90 degrees F. When it reaches this temperature, you should see the milk begin to curdle. 
  2. Now it’s time to add the rennet solution! Reduce heat to low if using a gas stove, or remove the pot from the burner altogether if using an electric stove. Stir in the rennet solution, slowly adding it over 30 to 60 seconds.
  3. Cover the pot and let the curd (the solids) set for 3-5 minutes. At this point the curd will look like custard and will leave clear yellow whey (liquids) when cut with a knife. (If the curd is still too runny let it sit a little longer, or try heating to 100-105 degrees F.)
  4. With a knife that reaches the bottom of the pot, cut the curd into approximately 1-inch cubes, in the pattern of a checkerboard. Return the pot to the stove and heat the curds you’ve just cut, stirring them again with your spoon, to 105-110 degrees F. 
  5. Transfer curds to a colander to drain out the whey (which you can save and use as soup stock). At this point, you can decide to continue making your mozzarella using a microwave (put the curds into a microwave safe bowl), or a hot water bath. (Both methods are described in the next step). Either way, the aim is to separate as much whey out as possible while heating, then knead and stretch the cheese in heat/drain/stretch cycles until it stretches like taffy and is ready to eat. Add salt as you go through this process. Most of it will drain out with the whey, but some will remain in your cheese and add to the flavor. NOTE: If microwaving, you can work salt into your cheese as you knead and stretch it. If using a hot water bath, add ¼ cup of salt to the liquid bath.  
  6. Form the cheese into rounds of mozzarella, and either:
    Microwave: Microwave curds on high for 1 minute, drain off any excess whey. Using a spoon or your hands, quickly knead and work your cheese into a ball until cool. Microwave again for 35 seconds, drain the whey, knead curds as you would bread dough, and reheat for another 35 seconds. Continue to drain your whey and work your cheese into a ball. As curds cool, reheat as needed for maximum stretch. The internal temperature of the curd must be 135 degrees F, which may be too hot to handle without the use of rubber gloves. Continue heating and stretching the curd until you can form a shiny and pliable ball of delicious mozzarella.
    Hot water bath: Using the same stainless steel pot, heat water to 175 degrees (if you want to be ultra-traditional, use the whey that you’ve drained off, heated to 175 degrees, for your liquid bath). Rest the colander over the pot as the whey drains from the curds. Cut or break curds into half inch pieces and place them in the hot water bath. The trick is to stir the curds so they begin to meld together as they heat up, then use your hands (wear rubber gloves as the curds will be hot!) to pull, knead, and stretch the mass until you reach the consistency you want. If your cheese begins to break, use a ladle or slotted spoon to re-immerse into the hot water/whey bath to reheat. Continue heating and stretching the curd until you can form a shiny and pliable ball of delicious mozzarella.
  7. As a final step, cool your mozzarella balls in a bowl of icy salt water.   

Take it even further! How did your mozzarella turn out? Was it stretchy? Creamy? Salty? If you enjoyed this homemade Italian mozzarella recipe, go even further by introducing your own alterations and adjustments. You could try using heavy cream, half and half, or skim milk. You could add curds and cream into the center of your mozzarella to make burrata. Or, now that you’ve got some fresh mozzarella, if you’ve learned how to make pizza dough, why not get some fresh tomatoes and make your own sauce too? Then, with a basil garnish, serve up a pizza that might just transport you to the south of Italy this summer. 

Topics: Culture, Food, Italy

Jennifer Watt

Before joining EF in January of 2012, Jennifer taught people of all ages (from grade school to grad school), specializing in experiential, environmental and science education. She taught in rural and urban settings here at home in the US, and in Nicaragua, Botswana, Peru, and Ecuador. She is a passionate advocate for immersive intercultural experiences as a gateway for catalyzing personal growth and life-altering experiences, and has been to Peru more than 40 times!

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