Traditionally made with sheep’s milk, today feta is more commonly made with cow’s or goat’s milk.
Feta originated in Greece, where it was traditionally made of sheep’s milk. It is now common to use cow’s or goat’s milk. The salty brine is the trademark of this cheese. It is lightly pressed to allow the structure of the cheese to remain open, so the brine penetrates the interior as well as the exterior of the cheese. Molly Nolte of Fias Co Farm is known for her extensive website full of valuable information on animal husbandry and other homestead topics. This is Molly’s famous feta recipe. Available from cheese-making suppliers, lipase powder is the enzyme that gives feta its great flavor. It is not vegetarian; you can omit it if you wish, but the resulting cheese will not have as much flavor. Molly uses kid/lamb lipase because she likes a strong feta flavor.
• 2 gallons goat’s or cow’s milk
• 1/4 teaspoon mesophilic DVI MA culture
• 1/4 teaspoon kid/lamb lipase powder
• 1 teaspoon liquid rennet dissolved in 1/2 cup nonchlorinated water
• Kosher salt
• 1/2 cup kosher salt per 1/2 gallon of water (boiled and cooled to room temperature)
1. In a double boiler, warm goat’s milk to 86 degrees or cow’s milk to 88 degrees. Remove from heat. Add culture and lipase. Stir well and let ripen, covered, for 1 hour.
2. Add the rennet dissolved in water and stir briskly for 15 seconds. Cover and let set 30 to 40 minutes, or until you can slice through the curd with a long knife and see distinct separation. (This is called a “clean break.”)
3. After a clean break is achieved, cut the curd into 1/2-inch strips. Then turn the pot 90 degrees and cut across in 1/2-inch slices in the other direction, making a checkerboard pattern. Now hold the knife at a 45-degree angle and retrace your cuts. Turn the pot a quarter turn and retrace the cuts. Turn it again and cut. And then one final turn and cut. By the last turn, you probably won’t be able to see the original cuts, but do the best you can. Don’t worry about cutting the curd perfectly. Let the curds rest—10 minutes for goat’s milk, 5 minutes for cow’s.
4. After the rest period, stir curd gently and cut any pieces you missed. Hold goat’s-milk curd at 86 degrees, or cow’s-milk curd at 88 degrees, for 45 minutes; keeping the pot covered will maintain the temperature. If the temperature falls, place the pot in a sink of 86-degree water to raise the temperature. Stir occasionally to prevent curds from sticking together. This process helps toughen the curd and release the whey.
5. Line the colander with a large piece of butter muslin and put it over a large pot. If the cheesecloth is dampened, it will stick slightly and be held in place. Carefully pour the curd into the colander. Tie the corners of the butter muslin together and hang the bag to drain.
6. After 3 to 4 hours, take cheese down and move it to a new piece of butter muslin, flipping it over. This turning will even up the cheese into a nice form. Continue draining for 24 hours.
7. At this point, the cheese will start to develop a distinctive odor. After the cheese has hung for about 24 hours, remove it from the cloth and cut it into usable, 2-inch cubes. Sprinkle all sides of the curds with kosher salt and place them in a sterilized, sealable container. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 days to harden up the blocks. The blocks will continue to release whey during this time.
8. Transfer the blocks to a large sterilized glass container, such as a glass pickle jar, and add the brine. If you add the brine too soon, the cheese sometimes starts to soften. If this happens, pour off the brine. The cheese is still good and can be used for cooking instead of crumbling.
9. Age the cheese in brine for 1 to 4 weeks before use. Feta will keep up to a year refrigerated.
This feta recipe is excerpted from Homemade Cheese by Janet Hurst with permission from Voyageur Press.
Click here for the main article, Make Cheese at Home.