In 2010, when Lillian and I were doing our pizza blog, we wrote about a class I attended at Murray’s Cheese Shop in Manhattan. Since that page is gone from the interwebs (except for those willing to take a deep dive into the Wayback Machine at archive.org), I’m presenting it here. Some topics are evergreen.
When we talk about making our own pizza, what does that mean? For some people, it may mean assembling a store-bought crust and store-bought ingredients, artfully arranging them, and putting the assembly into an oven for a while. Others make their own dough and buy everything else. Still others want to control every step of the process.
We're somewhere between the second and third groups, and when the opportunity came up to take a mozzarella-making class at Murray’s Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village, I jumped.
Murray's is well-known in New York City and has been offering cheesemaking classes for years. Their class offerings seem tailor-made for cosmopolitan Manhattanites, featuring everything from Cheese History to "Whey-cations" in popular Northeastern cheesemaking locales. We're not really fans of exotic cheeses, but how to make mozzarella? Mmm.
Just down the block from historic John's of Bleecker St. and around the corner from Joe's, Murray's is virtually surrounded by great New York pizzerias (I couldn't even get there without stopping for a delicious slice at Joe's).
Arriving at Murray's just in time for class, I walked through the crowded shop to the stairs at the back. Their clean, mood-lit classroom is on the second floor, overlooking the bustling shop.
Tables in the classroom were set up in a U-shape, with a place setting for each student. Baskets of bread were placed on each table. Glasses were set for water and wine.
The classes at Murray's are not cheap, but the offerings make it worthwhile: cheese and education, and if you're a wine-drinker (I'm not), you can easily come out ahead on the deal. I didn't care. I was there to learn how to make mozzarella.
So what did we learn?
Our instructor shared some fascinating cheese history with us: what was most interesting was that almost all major events in the history of cheese can be capped with the phrase, "...and they ate it anyway!" As in, "It was covered with some kind of blue mold... and they ate it anyway!"
And then there's rennet... and they ate it anyway.
From history, we went to chemistry. Molecules meeting and making mozzarella, whey protein, and casein.
We got to taste some ricotta and several forms of fresh mozzarella: fior di latte (cow's milk), bufala (from the milk of the water buffalo), the decadent burrata (fresh mozz-balls with sweet cream inside), and smoked mozzarella.
And then, at last, to process. Milk > acidification > rennet > salt.
Although we learned how curds are formed, and we learned a source for microbial rennet (good for vegetarians), our class focused on what to do once we HAD curds.
Pans were distributed, along with big stainless steel bowls and wooden spoons.
We each received a bunch of curds. Not much to them, I thought; they taste like tofu. "Curds taste kind of like tofu," our instructor said.
We each put our curds (which were cut into one-inch cubes) into the big bowls and poured warm water around them, "never pour the water directly on top of the curds..." to warm the curds.
We let our curds sit in the warm water for a few minutes until they had lost their chill and became "softer and squidgier." Warming the curds allows them to heat evenly when hot water is added.
Then we drained the warm water and kept it aside. Time for the hot water!
After pouring the hot water (really hot, like red-handed hot!) and letting the curds sit in it and get soft, it was time to stretch, pull, roll, and push, making the little balls of fresh mozzarella.
Getting the texture right, especially with hands in hot water, was the biggest challenge. Then rolling the cheese into croissant-like rolls, folding them over, and squeezing through my thumb and forefinger to make the cheese balls.
I thought my cheese wasn't bad for a first attempt. When I brought some to Lillian, she agreed - for a first attempt.
The class was worthwhile, and one of these pizza-making days, we'll use our own homemade cheese!
"Our own dough, our own mozzarella," I said, "soon, I guess we'll have to grow tomatoes and mill our own flour!"
Neither of which, by the way, is on our agenda.
By the way, for those of you who aren’t New Yorkers, the proper pronunciation is mootz-a-rell’, not matzo-rella. You’re welcome.
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Wonderful experience for you. I had no idea Murray's had classes.
FINALLY SUBSCRIBED!! Really enjoying your writing. Thank you!