How to make mozzarella and armenian string cheese at home

string cheeseWhen I posted the cheese making challenge on the daring kitchen forum, one of my fellow daring cooks attempted to make Armenian string cheese and I immediately knew what my next cheese making challenge should be. Armenian string cheese الجبنه المشلشله or Syrian string cheese as it is often refered to here is a type of milk string cheese made in much the same way as mozzarella is but what sets it apart is the addition of mahlab, nigella seeds and the unique braided or plaited shape. The braid makes this cheese a fun snack for kids and adults alike. unbraiding it and eating it strand by strand is only part of the fun. This Armenian string cheese is perfect for making grilled cheese sandwiches or using as a stuffing into pastry and fatayer as it melts beautifully.

The process may seem daunting with all the steps and pictures but if you have made mozzarella at home before, then you will find making Syrian string cheese a breeze. Even if you have never attempted making mozzarella at home, I promise you will really enjoy it. Watching milk turn into curds and then watching the curds melt and stretch into beautiful strands is nothing short of magical. Or as close to magic as you will get in the kitchen

In this post I will walk you through making mozzarella at home and then turning it into addictive string cheese.

Before we get started, please visit my cheese 101 page for basic information and definitions for the terms like rennet, whey. UHT milk.

string cheese chef in disguise

The milk:

Raw milk or pasteurized milk are your only options here. Raw preferable to pasteurized. UHT milk will not work even with the addition of Calcium chloride.

Hygiene:

Working with raw milk means that you need to be extra careful about keeping the utensils, hands and working space clean. You don’t want to contaminate the milk and cheese.

Microwave, hot water or direct heating in a pot?

To make mozzarella or string cheese you have to heat the curds to allow them to melt, that will enable you to stretch them. This can be done in threeways: the microwave or using hot water/whey or you can heat the curds directly in a non-stick pan. I use both the hot water/ whey method and the direct heating because I no longer own a microwave. I gave mine away a couple of months ago.

Before I get to the recipes a big thank you goes out to John from the Bartolini kitchens. without his support and wonderful tutorials I would have never started out on this whole cheese making adventure

How to Make Mozzarella at Home

mozarella

Inspired by: From the Bartolini kitchens and Chef nini

Ingredients

To make 3 balls of mozzarella (375 g) in total

  • 1 gal (3.67 L) whole milk — NOT ultra-pasteurized
  • 1¼ teaspoon citric acid   ملح ليمون  dissolved in a ¼ cup (60 ml) of cool distilled water
  • ½ tablet rennet dissolved in a ¼ cup (60 ml) of cool distilled water
  • ¼ teaspoon Lipase dissolved in a ¼ cup (60 ml) of cool distilled water – optional but, if using Lipase, add another ¼ tablet of rennet
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Directions

Place milk in a non-reactive pot with a lid. Gently heat the mixture until 88˚F (31˚C), stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom or  burning.

Add the citric acid water mix and stir well.

If using Lipase, add it now and mix thoroughly.(I did not use it)

Place pot where it will not be disturbed. Add dissolved rennet, stir thoroughly,  and cover pot.I usually place some kitchen towels on top of the pot or place it next to the heater.

Do not disturb for at least one hour.(on a cold day wait for 2 hours)

You should see that the milk has transformed into curd with some clear liquid on the top and sides (this liquid is called whey).

You need to check the curd to see if you can get a clean break. You can do this is a number of ways. One would be to put your finger into the curd at an angle and then pull it out. You should feel some resistance from the curd and your finger should come out relatively clean

clean break

Clean break

If your finger comes out covered in yogurt like substance then that is called a bad break (which means the milk did not set properly and the curds are too weak)

Another way to make sure the curd is ready is to  put a straw vertically into the curd. You should feel a slight resistance when you are planting the straw into the curds and the straw should stand vertically on its own

If you get a bad break wait another hour and test again.

If you still get a bad break,wait another hour. If you still get a bad break then sadly there is nothing you can do, you have to discard the milk and start over.

Cut the curds

If you get a clean break then now is the time to cut the curds, this step helps the whey separate from the curds.

Use a long knife or offset spatula, and starting at one side of the pot, cut a straight line through the curd.

Once the opposite side has been reached, create another slice about 2 cm away from the previous cut. Repeat until the entire curd has been cut into horizontal slices.

cutting the curds

Give the pot a quarter turn and, starting at one end of the pot, repeat the slicing process. When finished, the curd should be cut into squares.

Now you need to cut the curds below the surface, to do that. Take the knife or offset spatula and direct it at a 45 degree angle to the surface.

Slice through the curds from side to side at ½ inch intervals. This will cut the curds beneath the surface. Repeat this step twice, turning the pot and cutting the curds on an angle each time.

Cover the pot again and leave it undisturbed for 15 minutes. This will allow more whey to separate from the curds.

At the end of 15 minutes, using a slotted spoon, stir the curd gently. Cut any curds that are larger than 1-2 cm.

curds after heating

Return the pot to the stove and gently heat the curds and whey until they reach 108˚F (42˚C), stirring very gently  to prevent sticking on the pan’s bottom.If you stir the curds too much or break them into pieces that are too small, you will get a crumbly cheese that looks like ricotta and the curds won’t come together or stretch when you heat them. So stir GENTLY.

Maintain that temperature for 35 minutes. I heat the oven to 150 C. Turn it off and place a towel on the oven rack, place the pot in the oven, cover it with a towel and leave it in the closed oven for 35 minutes.

Your other option to maintain the temperature is to use a water bath.Prepare a larger pan with a little water and heat to 40 ° C, turn off the heat. Place the pot with the curd in the pot of water (make sure the water does not overflow!). Cover with a lid and then cover them all in a towel to keep warm.

At the end of the 35 minutes the curds should have firmed up

Test the curd

Bring a small saucepan of water to a near boil. The temperature should be between 80 and 90 ° C.

Take a piece of curd with a slotted spoon.

Place the spoon with the curd into the water at the right temperature. Allow a few seconds and remove the curd. Stretch it between your fingers. If it stretches, your curds are ready. Otherwise, allow the curds to remain warm and covered for another 30 minutes and check again.

stretch

At this stage you can store your mozzarella curds in the fridge for a couple of days.

When your curds are ready, gently pour the pot’s contents into a sieve, separating the curds while reserving the whey.

mozarella curds

Allow to drain for 15 minutes. Break apart any large clumps of curds.

Place curds into a large bowl, season with salt, and mix thoroughly.

Divide the curds into thirds. Place one third of the curds into a slotted spoon or fine sieve.

Heat a pot of water or whey to 80 or 90 C

heat

Use a spoon to submerge the curd ball into the hot water/whey. Leave it submerged for 30 seconds

stretching

Take the curd out and slowly stretch the curd If it breaks instead of stretching, re-heat the curd for another 15 seconds before trying again.

Fold the curd in half onto itself.

Stretch it again. Continue to stretch & fold submerging the cheese in the water for 30 seconds after every couple of folds.

At first the cheese will be dull and lumpy but then it will start to stretch more and become smooth and shiny

stretch  lumpy

smooth and shiny

Keep stretching and folding until the cheese is smooth and shines. Form it into a ball like  you would bread dough for a dinner roll.

Congratulations, you made mozzarella!

mozarella

Best if used right away. See Notes for storage tips.

Notes:

Mozzarella will remain good to eat for about 1 week but the sooner you use it, the better it will taste.

Mozzarella is at its best when it is still warm after being stretched. If you are not going to use it immediately, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap and set aside until needed. Do not refrigerate.

If you’re not going to use it that day, do not wrap it but place it in some reserved whey, covered, and then refrigerate it. Be aware that once it is chilled, the texture — the creaminess — will change because the milk fats will harden.

Traditionally the whey reserved from making mozzarella cheese may be used to make ricotta.To do that heat the whey to  (95˚C), allow it to cool, and then strain it through a cheese cloth or fine sieve. The problem with this technique is that the amount you will get is very small. No more than a few tablespoons. I do not use this technique to make ricotta. Instead I use this recipe

Mozzarella making troubleshoot

My mozzarella looks like ricotta and it won’t melt or stretch

bad mozzarella

This can be due to one of two causes. Either you stirred the curd when you reheated them vigorously and broke them down to pieces that are too small. Or the milk you used was heated beyond the pasteurization temperature. Either way there is nothing you can do to make the cheese melt and stretch but that does not mean you have to throw it away. Sprinkle it with some salt and herbs and enjoy it as a spread on your bread. It still tastes good

My mozzarella is dry and rubbery as opposed to smooth and shiny

There are many steps you can take to achieve a softer cheese. You may have stretched your curds too much. Simply let the cheese fall on its self a few times and put it in your container. It loses a lot of moisture during the stretching process.

If it is still too dry, next time, add the rennet at a temperature 2-5 degrees lower or do less cutting and stirring before the stretching stage.

I added the citric acid and the milk started to curdly immediately, what do I do now?

Add your rennet, wait for 30 minutes. You will probably see that the milk transformed into a block of cheese and whey has separated around the edges. If that is the case, skip the cutting the curds and reheating part, simply strain the curds and proceed with stretching them because the cutting, waiting and reheating is done to help the curds shrink and in such a case they have already shrunk and can be stretched immediately

I am using the same milk I used before, but now my curds are too soft.

Sometimes the age of the milk is a factor. You always want it to be as fresh as possible. Try adding a little more rennet (1/2 tablet) next time. There is also a possibility that the milk you are using has been heated beyong the pasteurization temperature even if the package says pasteurized. When possible use raw milk or milk with the lowest pasteurization temperature

How to make Armenian string cheese

armenian cheese

100 g (1 ball ) mozzarella curds

1 teaspoon nigella seeds (optional)

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon Mahlab

Sprinkle your mozzarella curds that you have formed into a ball with mahlab and nigella seeds. The amount is really up to your taste but I would start with 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of each .

Knead them into the cheese and taste it to see if you would like to add more.

Place your kneaded cheese curds on a slotted spoon and them submerge in the hot water (80-90 C) for 30 seconds.

Remove the cheese from the water, drain off any excess fluid

Make a hole in the center of the cheese ball turning it into a doughnut shape.

doughnut

Sorry about the quality of the pictures, my kids insisted on helping with the photography :)

Stretch the cheese with both hands to form a large loop

stretch string cheese

Double the loop on itself,then stretch again.

Repeat stretching and looping

The more you do this, the more strands you will get in the final cheese.

When the cheese cools down twist both ends in opposite directions

Twist ends in opposite directions and intertwine rope into a braid. Place one  end through the loop of the other to lock it.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video may be worth a million :) I hope this helps you understand the stretching and looping. You can skip the intro and you will find a video of ladies handing down the tradition of making string cheese to their grand daughter

Set cheese aside to dry  thoroughly. Wrap in plastic wrap and
refrigerate or freeze.

string cheese braid

Syrian string cheese

You may also like

Yogurt cheese (labneh):

Homemade Feta Cheese

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53 Comments

  1. U made mozarella!!!!! oh gosh Sawsan.. this is one post where I’m happy just looking at the process.. dont think I have it in me to give it a shot.. this is brilliant!! :)

    Reply
  2. terribetz

     /  March 25, 2013

    Thank you for this great post! I really enjoy your pictures and video help! I am so enjoying cooking with you and learning all kinds of new things! Thank you!

    Reply
  3. You have to be one of the best students on the planet Sawsan! (I’ve long-thought you to be one of the best teachers. And John – as you know – another!) This is absolutely beautiful cheese, an incredible post and you’ve just added a healthy dose of inspiration to my cheese maker-wannabe pot! Thank you! And congratulations on such success!!

    Reply
  4. Widad

     /  March 25, 2013

    Oh that video was very sweet. Reminded me of my grandmothers and made me tear up a little.

    Reply
  5. I am in complete awe! What a great tutorial! I may have mentioned that my only experience making mozzarella almost set me up for a mental institution, and almost made my kitchen need professional cleaning. But you make it sound soooo easy and doable!

    Loved the string cheese too, I’m afraid I would not try it before mastering mozzarella, though…

    Great post, Sawsan!

    Reply
  6. by the way, the skill of those ladies is amazing! Interesting how “kneading” the cheese is similar to kneading bread dough… Loved that video!

    Reply
  7. I love cheese and thank you for sharing the tips and tricks of making home made ones.

    Reply
  8. I only made string cheese once (ironically – being Armenian – not the Armenian version) – mine was a dill string cheese. It worked out great, but I somehow screwed up when attempting a different version. I think I over-melted it. I really need to try it again. I cheated and purchased the mozzarella curd at a local Italian grocery store. Kudos to you for truly making it from scratch … or should I say stretch? ;)

    Reply
  9. Your cheese posts alway amaze me Sawsan. One of these days I shall try my hand at this type of cheese; I know I would love the flavour and texture. Your photos are excellent, good for the kids helping, they will make fearless cooks!

    Reply
    • Thank you Eva! You will indeed enjoy the flavour and texture. They are so much better than anything you can buy.
      Thank you for your kind comment about the kids’ pictures :)

      Reply
  10. Wow Sawsan, I’m so impresed! I love the tutorials you offer to your readers :)

    Reply
  11. Now this is something I have wanted to do for a long time! Thank you for the recipe and great directions and photos!

    Reply
  12. What a GREAT reference and inspiration! I always love the step by step approach and now makes me want to experiment with making more cheese! :)

    Reply
  13. Sawson, you are such an inspiration. You always try some of the hardest feats. Thank goodness for us as you explain in detail what you learned in the process and how to make it easy and better. I think this post is so full of so information that I am going to have to read it several times. I was watching on the discovery channel how to braid the cheese and of course they make it look like a breeze, but I know it is really difficult and yours is beautiful. Your kids need to give mom an extra big hug for all your hard labor.

    Reply
    • Bam you are always so sweet and kind. Thank you. Believe me it is not that hard. It seems intimidating at first but if you do it step by step and start with simpler cheeses you will find that it is so much fun

      Reply
  14. You make it look so easy!

    Reply
    • It is not hard Laura. If you have never made cheese, try simpler ones like ricotta or labneh and then work your way to other more demanding cheeses. once you get concepts like curds, whey and clean break you will find that making cheese is so much fun

      Reply
  15. You and ChgoJohn blow me away every time with your cheese making abilities. It looks like such an intricate process that requires so much attention to detail and patience. Perhaps one of these days I’ll tackle the challenge. Until then, I’m going to live vicariously through you. :) This cheese looks both tasty and fun!

    Reply
    • It seems intricate and complicated at first Kristy but if you try the simpler cheeses first like ricotta and paneeer and work your way through other cheeses you will realize it is really easy. Besides homemade cheese tastes so much better than anything you can buy and the kids have a blast helping with it

      Reply
  16. What a wonderful tutorial! It read like a novel and I couldn’t stop reading until I got to the final product. As soon as I have my e-cookbook published and have some time, I really must try this as we love mozzarella and it is so expensive here.

    Reply
    • Thank you Suzanne! Here you can’t get fresh mozzarella, that was my motivation for trying and the result was heavenly. Fresh mozzarella is so creamy and tastes wonderful compared to the horrible stuff they sell at the store

      Reply
  17. Wow.. this is really impressive. You’ve written up such a comprehensive post, if I’m ever up to such a challenge, I will definitely come here first and reread how to do this. I love your braided cheese.. it’s really pretty. Oh.. and I love your new blog look, it’s also very delicate and spring-like! xx

    Reply
  18. Thank you so much for sharing it, I’ll definitely make mozzarella!

    Reply
  19. I have to go explore your cheese making adventures! They look delicious!

    Reply
  20. A wonderful post, Sawsan. I’d never heard of Armenian string cheese so this was an educational post for me, as well. Nice that your children want to get involved in the process. You may have a future chef in the house.
    Thanks you for your kind mention of my blog and cheese making efforts, Sawsan. They are very much appreciated.

    Reply
  21. I will be back to try out this recipe one day Sawsan! It is such a thorough post — especially with the troubleshooting section. I hope you and the family are well!

    Reply
  22. I love cheese! Thanks for sharing this. I will try to make some mozzarella soon.

    Reply
  23. I am in awe, I need to track down the necessary bits to make this…I realy want to give it a go! Congratulations on an amazing post :)

    Reply
  24. I am excited to try both cheeses at home! Bookmarked!

    Reply
  25. What soul satisfying cheeses. I would think I had died and gone to heaven if I could make a grilled cheese with that string cheese. WOW! I wish you could come and give me a personal lesson on making cheese. I don’t know why it scares me so.

    Reply
  26. now this looks like something I could actually do! I can see myself making mozzarella cheese. I am impressed and I am inspired!

    Reply
  27. This looks amazing, Sawsan! :)

    Reply
  28. Okay, I want to ask if I can cheat by buying bocconcini from the shops, putting that in the water to soften and then making it into armenian string cheese?
    Because I know for sure I cannot make mozzarella cheese being the uni student I am! So any insights? :)

    Reply
  29. Beautifully done, Sawsan! I have been missing my favorite Armenian string cheese lately (we get all the other Arabic cheeses here, but somehow the Armenian one slips through!). I am SO excited to now know how to make it at home. Thank you! Your mozzarella troubleshooting is so helpful, as well – I will pass that on to a friend who is interested in making mozzarella.

    Reply
  30. Hi Sawsan, I’m always sure to learn a new thing here. I’d never heard of Armenian string cheese before… how cool is that? Looks like loads of fun to make, and to eat. Thanks for sharing this delightful, inspirational recipe!

    Reply
  31. What a lovely detailed tutorial. I appreciate your sharing this. It gives me inspiration to try it one day.

    Reply
    • رح جربها انشالله بس بدي اعرف شو السبب انه في أنواع من الجبنة المشللة بتذوب لمابتنغسل وفي أنواع لا وشو يلي بيعطي كثافة للجبنة في شئ عم يحطوه مصنعين الاجبان هل ياترى الليباز بيفرق وضعه أو لا ؟ مع العلم انه الجبنة طلعت رائعة وطعمها شغلة عظيمة ذكرتني بطفولتي يسلمو ايديكي ياسوسن والله يسعدك :)

      Reply
      • اهلا ريما
        هلا اذا بدك تخزني الجبنه لفتره طويله في عندك خيارين
        يا اما بتلفيها على طول بنايلون و بتحطيها بالثلاجه او بالفريزر حسب الكميه و حسب الفتره اللي بدك تخزنيها
        الخيار التاني انك تحطيها بماء بارد جدا مذات فيه كميه كبيره من الملح مجرد ما تخلصي مطها..هاد بيخلي الجبنه تتماسك و ما بتعود تدوب بالمي..هي الفكره انه الملح بيشد الجبنه و بيخليها ما تذوب
        الليباز ما جربتو للاسف لانه مش متوفر هون و المفروض انه اضافته للنكهه اكثر من اي شي ثاني
        ان شاء الله كون ساعدتك و اذا عندك اي سؤال تاني من عيوني

      • مرحباً سوسن انشالله تكوني بخير ، رجعت جربتها بلاتسخين مازبطت أمي عم تقلي لازم الجبنة تتخمر فانا خثرتها ورح شيلها من المي واتركها تتخمر لبكرا وبكرا انشالله بقلك شو صار ادعيلي :)))

  32. Hi Sawsan . I tried your cheese recipe and we are eating it right now , it is delicious thanks a lot , but I couldn’t stretch it ( string cheese) but naboulsia and ricotta and feta delicious , when I couldn’t stretch it enough to make it like string I make it like fingers :( , but I’ll try it again inshallah and big big thanks dear Sawsan:)

    Reply
    • Hello Rima
      Try skipping the reheating step. When the curds set, slice them and strain them and start stretching the cheese. I have found that sometimes this helps
      I really hop your next attempt will work perfectly

      Reply
  33. G’day Sawsan, I am glad I did not miss your blog post today, true!
    LOVE your step by step…have made cheese at home before…but thank you for always inspiring me and great photos today too!
    Cheers! Joanne

    Reply
  34. Danny & Sawsan

     /  June 29, 2014

    For those who haven’t tried the Armenian/Syrian stretched cheese it’s amazing, my favourite cheese to eat when in the Middle East. Lucky for me wife loves to make cheese. Thanks Susu….

    Reply
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