May

23
2012

Make your own feta

Marissa     Eats and Drinks     , ,     6    

When we first bought the farm in 2008, we quickly signed up for a cheese making class at wonderful Homestead Heritage (I did a blog post about the site). It was a great introduction to the craft and made me realize that it is something that anybody can do. I was very intimidated by cheese making in the beggining but it really is simple. If you can cook, you can make cheese!

The goats have only recently kidded for the year but are starting to out produce their babies demands for milk, so we are finally getting to share the extras. We typically make just a few cheeses on a regular basis but I’m always experimenting with new recipes and ideas. But feta is a farm favorite and that’s what I chose for the first batch of cheese in 2012.

I’ve had to tweak and combine recipes from various books to come up with our own versions that work with goat milk (a lot of cheese making books focus on cow milk alone and goat milk can be subtly, or drastically!, different) as well as the equipment and ingredients we have available. So this is how we make Sand Holler Farm Feta.

I typically do four gallon batches, or rather two four gallon batches at once. But we are just starting to get enough milk, so this was a single batch.

Ingredients:

4 gallons fresh milk

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 teaspoon double strength vegetable rennet in 1/4 cup cold water

salt (coarse or regular is fine)

You can easily convert this to a smaller batch:

1 gallon fresh milk

1/4 cup buttermilk

4 drops double strength vegetable rennet in 1/4 cup cold water

salt (coarse or regular is fine)

Equipment:

4 gallon seamless stainless steel pot
Thermometer
Straining equipment (pictured is a large colander and cheese cloth)
Mold

Here are the quick instructions and then I’ll show pictures with more in depth directions below.

Instructions:

1. Heat milk to 85°F, turn off the heat and add the buttermilk. Let ripen for one hour.

2. Add the diluted rennet and stir thoroughly. Let sit for one hour.

3. Check for clean break and cut the curd into 1/2″ checkerboard. Let sit for 5 minutes and then stir gently every few minutes for 15 minutes.

4. Drain into molds for 6-8 hours at room temperature.

5. Cut into pieces and salt all sides. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

6. Drain, resalt and let sit for 2 hours before putting in the refrigerator.

7. Age in the refrigerator for a week. At this time it can either be eaten or brined.

I make sure to taste all of the milk before going into the pot so that I don’t get any off flavors in the cheese. Feta can be pretty forgiving with things like that but better safe than sorry! We have recently graduated from the old analog dial thermometers to a fancy digital thermocouple meter from Omega. It is far superior. Every time I calibrated the dial thermometers, they would have drifted by 20 degrees or more.

You are supposed to heat the milk slowly and if you are only doing a gallon batch, you may want to adjust your stove setting to low or medium. But for four gallons, I turn the stove on high as it still takes quite a long time to heat. I stir frequently to prevent any scorching. Once it reaches 85°F, turn off the stove and add the buttermilk. Be sure to put the lid on at this point to retain as much heat as possible. Of course, this is barely an issue right now as the air conditioner in the cheese kitchen runs constantly to even keep the room at about 85°F! Let the milk ‘ripen’ for an hour. This gives the bacteria in the buttermilk time to multiply in the milk. For this batch, I used store bought buttermilk but usually we make our own. It’s very easy – you just add buttermilk to milk (1/2 cup to a gallon) at 85°F and let sit for 12 hours. Viola!

After the hour of ripening, add the diluted rennet and stir thoroughly. Many books say to stir in an up-and-down motion 20 times. I believe this is to make sure you don’t have any unmixed cream that has risen to the top, but this is really only a problem for cow milk. Still, I tend to follow those directions! You just want to ensure that the rennet is completely mixed in so you get uniform coagulation. After adding the rennet, again wait an hour.

Once the rennet has been allowed to do its business for an hour, you check for clean break. For feta, I’ve never had it fail the clean break test, but other cheeses you may have to wait additional time. What’s ‘clean break’ you ask? Good question! The curd that forms is quite soft, but needs to be firm enough so that when you stick a knife in and tilt it to the side, the curd separates away from the knife and doesn’t stick to it. Imagine sticking a knife in thick greek yogurt and tilting it – the yogurt will likely stick. Now imagine doing this with soft tofu – the tofu would likely not stick. That’s the texture difference.

When you pull the knife out, the break in the curd should also still be visible – a clean break between the two pieces you’ve just separated.

Once you have ensured the clean break, then you use a knife to cut the curd into a checkerboard pattern of 1/2″ squares. Just stick the knife all the way to the bottom of the pan and draw it across. Once you have made long strips all in one direction, repeat again 90° from the first set of cuts. I couldn’t get a picture to really show this as the curd starts to settle as more whey comes out so you can no longer really see the surface of the curd very well after the cutting is done! And that’s specifically why you cut the curd – to allow it to release more whey. Once you’ve cut the checkerboard, you let it sit for 5 minutes and then stir it very gently every few minutes for 15 minutes. You want to break up the curd into somewhat uniform 1/2″ pieces, though it seems like mine are usually closer to 1″.

Once stirring is complete (a total of 20 minutes after cutting the curd), you simply fill your feta mold with the curds. I do this in a number of ways depending on how much I’m making. When I do 2 batches at once, I use a cheese cloth to line the big colander and pour the entire contents of the pot – SLOWLY – into it. You don’t want to break up the curds even more. Then I hang the cheese cloth for about 15 minutes to allow the majority of the whey to drain. Meanwhile, I get a second cheese cloth and do the other batch. Then transfer them into the square molds we have made. But since this was just a single batch, it’s easier to just ladle straight to the square mold. This is just too time consuming with two batches.

I use a big skimmer with holes and just let each scoop drain out before loading it into a plastic container with small holes drilled all over it. It BARELY fits in the mold (I have to wait sometimes for the level to drop before getting the last few scoops of curd in) but after draining, it’s only about 1/3-1/2 full as the curd compresses and becomes more firm. All the whey is reserved for either cooking (you can do a million things with whey) or feeding to the chickens as a treat. Once the mold is full, the cheese drains at room temperature for 6-8 hours. As I said earlier, it barely hovers around 85°F in the cheese kitchen and “room temperature” in cheese making is closer to 75°F. So I set this up in the cheese cave. Our cheese cave is simply a refrigerator with a thermostat that allows me to adjust the temperature to much higher than usual settings. Typically, it’s around 50°F for aging hard cheeses, but we don’t have anything in there right now, so I set it higher and put the feta in to drain into a larger container (it’s supported on little bowls to keep it out of the whey).

After it’s firm enough to handle (6-8 hours), I cut the cheese into 8 sections, take each one out and salt all of the sides and place it into the larger plastic container (after I’ve dumped the whey from it). So I end up with 8 ~1/2 lb pieces of feta (typically, a gallon of milk makes a pound of cheese). These salted pieces need to expel even more whey so they went back in the warm fridge for an additional 24 hours.

The next day, just drain the accumulated whey off, resalt the pieces and let them sit for just 2 more hours at room temperature and then put them in the fridge (an actual cold fridge!) for the final aging. The texture really develops over the week of aging. It is ready to eat afterwards, but I like a more salty feta so I usually put it in brine (1/2 gallon of whey, 1/2 gallon of water and 1 lb of salt) for a few days before eating. Can’t wait for this first batch to be ready to eat!

This post is part of a blog hop called Wildcrafting Wednesday with other tips about wildcrafting, self-sufficiency, old fashioned wisdom and more.


6 comments

  • Ruth Bennett said:

    May 23, 2012 9:04 pm

    That’s a lot of work! Think, I’ll just buy the cheese from you :-)

  • Hannah Steenbock said:

    May 26, 2012 1:01 am

    I love your posts. I’m constantly amazed at how many pics you’re taking and how well you can explain these things. Now I wish I had a goat, so I can try out feta! (Of course, I can buy it at the Turkish supermarket around the corner …)

    Thanks again for a wonderful read!

  • Laurie said:

    May 31, 2012 11:25 pm

    Thanks for linking up to Wildcrafting Wednesday. You’ve been selected as one of this week’s featured posts – http://www.commonsensehome.com/common-blue-violet/

  • Jaret said:

    Jun 26, 2012 10:23 am

    What was the yield for 4 gallons of milk? I mean, I can see the finished cheese chunks, but there’s no scale, so I’m not really sure what I’m looking at.

    • Marissa replied:

      Jul 12, 2012 5:24 pm

      Sorry for the late reply – having a newborn makes me lose track of time!

      Typically, a gallon of milk will yield a pound of cheese. For soft cheeses like feta, the yield is a bit higher, but not much in my experience.

  • New blog post about this topic: Weekly Weeder #23 - Common Blue Violet + Wildcrafting Wednesday