Twenty-one pounds of mozzarella curd, 15 bottles of wine, 13 women, 4 pounds of pizza dough, dozens of toppings, and one wood-fired pizza oven named Maxey. It's a mozzarella-making party.
Meet Karen Hogan: dancer, mother, owner of Firebelly Artisan Pizza, mozzarella maker.
Karen and I thought it would be fun to have a few friends over to her kitchen studio (where Maxey lives) and make some mozzarella cheese. Then we found out that Food52.com was encouraging people everywhere to have mozzarella potlucks and share what they learn on their website. We signed up to be an official mozzarella-making site, right here in Jackson, Wyoming.
This was only my third time making mozzarella. Just as we used to say in medical school: See one, do one, teach one.
We didn't have a lot of mozzarella-making experience under our belts, but it was easy. We both practiced at home before the big night. I made my own mozzarella curds one day, starting with the freshest gallon of homogenized whole milk I could find and a kit from the grocery store. It helped to see the whole cheese making process from start to finish, and to get a feel for kneading and stretching the curds. To learn how to make mozzarella curd, follow this helpful tutorial
21# of mozzarella curd. Yep, that should be enough.
One gallon of whole milk yields two small balls of mozzarella cheese. We were going to need a lot more cheese than that, so for the party we ordered mozzarella curd from Caputo's
, an Italian emporium in Salt Lake City. It was as good if not better than my homemade curd, and saved us a lot of time. After all, the fun of making mozzarella is in the kneading of the curds and the stretching of the cheese, and the creation of cute little balls.
Fig and Olive Tapenade, from Food52er Kayb was a the perfect starter smeared on pear slices and olive oil crackers.
And since it was a Friday night after a busy week, wine and appetizers were the first order of business. Fig and Olive Tapenade, a recipe by Kayb
on the Food52 website, was a most excellent start to the night. With the added bonus that it appeared later on one of our soon-to-be-famous pizzas. (Fig and Olive Tapenade as the base, sliced pears, caramelized onions, and fresh mozzarella; we called it the Food52 Fig Olive Pizza).
Prosciutto-wrapped melon bites, with minted balsamic drizzle.
For a let's-get-in-the-mood-for-summer appetizer, I wrapped chunks of melon with wispy-thin slices of San Daniele prosciutto, and then drizzled them with a sweet and tart mint/balsamic sauce.
We were also tasting olive oils from California Olive Ranch
. As a frequent user of both Arbequina (which I buy in 2.5 gallon jugs) and Miller's Blend, it was fun to taste them side by side. The Arbequina is bright and fruity, with the fresh, floral flavor of a just-pressed Tuscan oil. Miller's Blend has a rounder, stronger flavor with a bit of pepper at the end. The verdict: Arbequina would be perfect for making vinaigrettes and pesto, and drizzling on top of ice cream with sea salt. Miller's Blend would stand up to stronger flavors and spicier food. It is fair to say that we were smitten with both olive oils.
Hanneke, Saxon and Amelia weigh in on the California Olive Ranch olive oils.
It was time to get down to business, before the wine was all gone. We donned protective gloves, and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. A generous pour from our big box of Kosher salt was a key step to giving our mozzarella that salty edge.
Mozzarella curds are placed in the salty water and heated to 180ºF.
We broke up the curd into manageable pieces, and divided it between our cheesemaking staff, armed with stainless steel bowls filled with hot salty water. How hot? 180ºF is the magic number. The water has to be at least this hot to melt the curd before you can knead it.
Kelly contemplating how we are going to turn all this curd into mozzarella cheese.
The girls getting down to business.
After a few minutes of gently stirring the water and the curd to keep the heat evenly distributed, the curds began melting into each other to form a stretchy lump. Now it was time to knead and stretch.
Stretching mozzarella curd is not unlike stretching taffy.
If the mozzarella doesn't stretch, then just place it back in the bowl of hot water. Eventually you will have a feel for when the mozzarella is ready; real cheesemakers use pH strips and start stretching when it drops to 5.2.
Amelia and Danielle: proud mamas with their baby balls of mozzarella.
It's fun to knead the mozzarella, but we found it was good to exercise restraint. If you overwork it, the cheese becomes shaggy and rough. The trick was to recognize the beautiful, elastic, shiny phase, and then quickly turn the edges under and form a ball. You'll know it when you see it. The mozzarella balls are then plunged into a bowl of cold water, to chill and firm up. But not before we all tasted the warm, milky cheese and sighed a collective "Mmmmmmm".
We all agreed that Carrie's balls were the cutest.
Meanwhile, Karen was lovingly stoking Maxey with the oak wood she chops herself. As Maxey heated up, we took a break outside to admire the beautiful night.
Maxey the incredible traveling wood-fired pizza oven.
The mozzarella-making girls are taking a well deserved break. Snake River Mountains that lie to the south of Jackson frame the sunset.
Now for the pizza. Luckily, we had an expert amongst us. Karen's pizza is some of the best pizza I have ever had. Her Naples-style crust is thin and crispy yet has just the right chewiness. Maxey heats up to 900ºF, able to cook a pizza in 90 seconds. The crust bubbles up and chars distinctively, and then Karen expertly "domes" the pizza to finish cooking the top.
Karen pulls Maxey on a trailer to parties and events in and around Jackson Hole.
It is a beautiful thing to watch Maxey cook a pizza in 90 seconds.
We started with a classic Margherita Pizza. Freshly torn mozzarella, fresh crushed San Marzano tomatoes and basil, on Karen's perfect crust: a new standard for the margherita.
Close your eyes, take a bite, and you'd swear you were at a pizzeria in Naples.
The creative juices are flowing.
In the spirit of a potluck theme, everyone brought their favorite pizza topping ingredients. There was kale, arugula and lemon. Caramelized onions, pears, prosciutto, and gorgonzola. Pineapple, jalapeño and hot sauce. There was goat cheese, fontina, parmesan, and lots and lots of fresh mozzarella. I brought a jar of shaved truffles in olive oil that I had purchased at a farmer's market in Tuscany, and lovingly brought home in my suitcase. And a bag of locally-foraged morel mushrooms, the last of my stash from last spring.
The is Karen's famous OMG Pizza: garlic cream sauce, caramelized onions, pears, mozzarella.
Karen had prepared some innovative sauces. I fell in love with the garlic cream sauce that was the base for her famous OMG Pizza, topped with incredibly thin slices of pear (sliced with a mandoline).
Here's my Food52 Fig Olive Pizza. Fig and Olive Tapenade is the base, then caramelized onions, pears, mozzarella. Topped with arugula tossed in olive oil and lemon juice.
When Saxon found the jar of truffles, she was in heaven. She generously slathered them on her pizza dough. Then the morels, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, prosciutto, and a healthy topping of kale. The aroma of truffles wafting from the pizza as she pulled it out of the oven made us all groan. We call it the Better Than Sex Pizza.
The Better Than Sex pizza
Elisa and Catherine with their version of the Better Than Sex.
Soon everyone was slathering shaved truffles on their pizzas in a collective ode to the Tuscan countryside, until the jar of truffles was gone.
Maxey doing her magic on the Better Than Sex pizza.
Then, for a change of pace, Sarah got to work on her masterpiece, a jalapeño-studded, hot sauce-based pie with fresh pineapple chunks.
Sarah had the foresight to bring a pineapple, hot sauce, and jalapeños as her potluck ingredients.
We called it The College Girl. It was the first pineapple pizza I'd ever dared to eat. As Geena Davis says in Thelma and Louise: "Now I understand what all the fuss is about!"
The College GIrl in all its jalapeño and hot sauce glory.
Sarah tops her creation with California Olive Ranch Arbequina olive oil, the perfect complement to the fresh pineapple.
Expectations were high as Amelia started to work on her pie. After all, Amelia splits her time between Rome and Jackson Hole. Lucky girl.
Amelia is also a dancer; can't you tell by her beautiful hands?
A heart-shaped crust topped with butternut squash puree, roasted tomatoes, kale, caramelized onions, and fresh mozzarella. Squash Love was born.
Amelia's Squash Love creation. Butternut squash puree is the sauce.
If you've never tried making a butternut squash based pizza, don't be shy. This may well be my favorite pizza of the night. I especially love the combination of the roasted tomatoes with the sweet squash and the salty kale. Well done, Amelia!
Everything's better with Arbequina drizzled on top.
Amelia's Squash Love was nicely accentuated by the Arbequina's floral notes. Karen's hand-chopped pile of oak in the background.
Girls always have room for dessert, even after eating all that pizza. Chocolate Anise Biscotti are perfect with just one more glass of wine.
We weren't too full to polish off the Chocolate Anise Biscotti and the rest of the wine.
Chris and Carrie agreed that making mozzarella was some of the best indoor fun they've had in a long time.
Thanks to Food52.com
for motivating us to dip our toes into the world of cheese making. Thanks to California Olive Ranch
for providing us with a tasting kit of their addictive olive oil. A special thanks to Karen Hogan of Firebelly Artisan Pizza
for hosting us at Maxey's fabulous den. And to all our enthusiastic friends who can now add mozzarella-making to their long list of talents.
For a printable version of each recipe, click on the file below it.
Fig and Olive Tapenade
Here is Kayb's recipe for the incredibly simple and delicious tapenade, as she posted it on Food52.com. This recipe has easily slipped into my party repertoire, and I must admit that I usually double it so that I have leftover tapenade to spread on turkey sandwiches, cracker-and-blue-cheese snacks, and mozzarella paninis all week long. We also found that it makes a darn good pizza.
Serves 8 as an appetizer
- 4 ounces dried figs (I have used both black mission and calmyra figs with great results)
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
- 1/2 cup green olives, pimiento stuffed
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Finely mince the figs and olives, or pulse them in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the olive oil, rosemary, and balsamic vinegar, and mix or pulse.
- Add more olive oil, if needed, to get the desired consistency.
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Melon Prosciutto BItes with Minted Balsamic Drizzle
This appetizer hardly requires a recipe. All you need is a gentle reminder to make this often during the height of the melon season. And I bet you'll find a few more uses for the Mint/Balsamic Drizzle.
Serves 8 as an appetizer
- 1 perfectly ripe cantaloupe, peeled and seeded, cut into 2-bite cubes
- 12 slices prosciutto (I love san daniele) sliced paper-thin
- 3 tablespoons fresh mint, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar, to taste
- Tear each slice of prosciutto into 3 long pieces.
- Wrap each piece of melon with a slice of prosciutto, and secure with a toothpick.
- Place the mint, balsamic vinegar and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely minced.
- Drizzle the sauce over the melon just before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.
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Chocolate Anise Biscotti
Biscotti don't have to be hard as a rock. When you make them yourself, you can bake them soft or crispy, or somewhere in between. You'll need a good, sharp serrated knife to cut the cookie loaf into thin slices.
If you like to make your own biscotti, you may want to invest in a biscotti pan by USA pans. I found mine on kingarthurflour.com. It is just the right size for making nice, big biscotti, and the perfectly proportioned pan keeps the dough from spreading.
If you don't have time to chill the dough, the biscotti will still turn out fine, but the log may spread out on the baking sheet.
Makes about 2 dozen
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons anise seed
- 1 teaspoon anise extract (optional and delicious)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a large heavy baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Crush the anise seed in a mortar and pestle. Or place them in a plastic bag, and crush a few times with a rolling pin.
- Using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time.
- Add the anise seed, the flour mixture, the anise extract (if using) and the chocolate chips. Stir gently until just combined.
- Chill the dough for at least an hour or overnight.
- Form the dough into a 16-inch long, 3-inch wide log. Transfer to the baking sheet.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until light golden. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 30 minutes.
- Transfer the log to a cutting board, and cut on a diagonal into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch slices using a sharp serrated knife.
- Transfer biscotti cut side down onto the baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, about 10 minutes for chewy biscotti, 15-20 minutes for crispy ones.
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I love my biscotti pan from kingarthurflour.com
Mozzarella Making Kit
: this kit
can be purchased online at Amazon.com, or locally at Jackson Whole Grocer. It contains everything you need to make mozzarella from scratch: rennet, citric acid, a thermometer, gloves. Just add fresh whole milk.
To order mozzarella curd in bulk, contact Caputo's deli
in Salt Lake City. And the next time you are in Salt Lake, stop by and check out their Cheese Cave. It is a wonder to behold. California Olive Ranch
olive oils are available locally at Jackson Whole Grocer. You can buy directly from the producer on their website
. If you live in my area, you can also buy in bulk from a distributor named Joe
. I email him when I am getting low on olive oil, and he arranges a 2.5 gallon jug to be sent from the Ranch directly to my front door. It's as good as Zappo's.Firebelly Artisan Pizza
: to have Karen cater a party for you, contact her here
. She will bring Maxey to your house and spread joy and pizza to all of your friends.