Jasper Mirabile is one of the cheesiest chefs in Kansas City — and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
This week, I got a lesson in cheesemaking from Mirabile for our fourth episode of Chow Town Live, our new Facebook Live food show.
Each April, Mirabile kicks off his “Mozzarella Theater.” Diners at his 63-year-old, family-owned Italian Jasper’s Restaurant can order fresh mozzarella and watch it made tableside.
To use up the leftover soup of water and whey from making mozzarella, Mirabile started making ricotta (which means to “re-cook”; it’s typically used in lasagna, manicotti and cannoli). He’s most recently added burrata (which means “buttered”).
Burrata starts with mozzarella stretched into a hollow pouch stuffed with leftover ricotta curds, and the luxurious texture means it is usually served with nothing more than crusty bread and a drizzle of honey.
In 2008, Mirabile was working as a chef spokesman with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. After learning the pulling technique for mozzarella, he began teaching others how to make the cheese from scratch using four ingredients: milk, rennet tablets, sea salt and citric acid.
Later that summer, while on a trip to an artisan shop and restaurant in Italy, he ordered mozzarella and watched as a cheesemaker stretched the cheese in a dark corner with his back turned to diners. Mirabile decided it was time to cast fresh mozzarella in a starring role.
Back at home, he had a cart built and started rolling it through the dining room. Most nights he makes more than 100 orders. Cost is $9.95 per person.
“The prom kids thought is was the best thing in the world,” Mirabile says of the cart’s opening weekend, which he times to baseball’s opening day. “A lot of younger people are enthralled with making cheese.”
The number of Mozzarella Theater orders can climb to 150 to 175 on a Saturday night in late summer, when Kansas City, Kan.-grown Kurlbaum heirloom tomatoes are at their peak.
“When tomato season hits (July and August), it’s a zoo in here.” But, Mirabile says with a contented smile, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to the restaurant.”
Most diners enjoy the fresh mozzarella served with tomatoes and basil in a traditional layered Insalata Caprese drizzled with olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. The season for fresh mozzarella runs until Oct. 1.
The process of making the cheese is simple, but Mirabile says you must use homogenized — not ultra-pasteurized — milk. He also markets a kit containing enough ingredients to make 6 to 8 pounds of cheese (just add milk), gloves for stretching and a thermometer. Cost is $24.95, available at the restaurant.
He is also a well-known Kansas City radio personality with a Saturday morning show, “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and is the chef spokesman for Hen House markets. He’s also a weekly Chow Town blogger: Read a previous post on burrata.
Jill Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @kcstarfood on Twitter and on our weekly Facebook Live broadcasts.
Jasper Mirabile’s Fresh Ricotta
Makes 1 pound
1 gallon homogenized milk (see note)
Juice of 2 lemons, cut in half, squeezed and strained
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar (optional)
In a non-reactive, 6-quart pot, add milk and place on medium high heat, stirring constantly until temperature reaches 190 degrees.
Add lemon juice (vinegar optional at this point) along with salt and stir. Lower heat and watch curds begin to form. Remove from heat after 5 minutes.
Pour mixture into cheesecloth or lined sieve. Let drain 1 hour. Refrigerate immediately.
Note: Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk. Also, do not put milk in the microwave to heat.