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Feta

Feta cheese is a Greek specialty and its origin goes back a long way in history, it is considered to be one of the oldest cheeses in the world.

The earliest record of feta cheese dates back to the Byzantine Empire. It has been associated closely with Crete, located in present day Greece. An Italian traveler to the city of Candia makes express mention of the curing processes in brine cellars in his writings, dated 1494.

The word "feta" has an interesting genealogy. It comes from the Italian word fetta (meaning slice). Fetta, in turn, is of Latin origin from offa (meaning bite or morsel). It first appeared in Greek language in the 17th century, possibly referring to the process of serving the cheese by cutting it in thin slices. Many, however, attribute a Classical Greek origin to feta cheese. According to myth, the Cyclops Polyfimos was the first to have prepared it. In the museum of Delphi, 6th century BC artifacts also make references to the process of feta cheese-making.

Feta cheese in 2005 secured a protected designation of origin in the European Union, and is defined as having a minimum of 70% sheep's milk, with the rest being goat's milk. Greece had to fight a protracted legal battle to secure the same, as a variety of pasteurized cow's milk cheese was in circulation in Denmark under the same name.

Varieties to the Greek feta cheese are to be found in many of the Balkan countries as well as the Mediterranean region.

Feta is an aged brine curd cheese, which is usually made from ewe's or goat's milk. Usually formed in square-shaped blocks, it is known to have a somewhat grainy consistency. However, in today's world there is an abundance of "Feta Style" cheese made with cow milk. Feta is usually white in color, with a tangy and salty flavor and a hardness that can range from soft to semi-hard.


The Feta Recipe

Our Feta recipe below is made with whole fat cow milk but ewe or goats milk can easily be used to achieve more traditional flavors.

Heating and Acidifying the milk:

This Feta begins with 4.5 gallons of whole milk. It is the heated to 93F.
When the target temperature is reached add 1/4 tsp of MM100 culture and ripen for 60 minutes.
(Note: if using pasteurized milk, also add 3 ml calcium chloride)

Note : if you would like to make a 2 gallon batch

You can simply reduce the culture and rennet and change the press weight as indicated below. This will make about 2.5 lbs of cheese.
  • Use 1/8 tsp of the MM 100 or 1/2 pack of our buttermilk culture
  • Use 1/4 tsp of a single strength rennet
  • For consolidating and forming the cheese use only a pint jar of water for weight (some will choose to use no weight depending on the texture desired)

Coagulation with rennet:

Once the milk is ripened, add a bit over 1/2 tsp or more precisely 1/2 tsp plus another 1/8 tsp (3 ml) of  single strength rennet or 1/2-3/4 rennet tablet. Dilute rennet  in 1/4 cup cool non-chlorinated water.
Stir slowly in an up and down direction for 1 minute.
The milk will begin to thicken in about 10 minutes but allow it to set for 40 minutes from the time of rennet addition.
The test for this will be to insert a clean finger into the curd and slowly lift until the curd splits. Observe the break and if it does not break clean or the whey is very milky, more rennet is needed the next time (it can not be added now). If the curd seems tough or the whey excessively clear, then less should be used next time.

Cutting the curds and releasing the whey:

Cut the curd to 1/2 inch cubes over 5 minutes and slowly stir for another 20 minutes to release the whey while maintaining the original temperature. The firmness of your final cheese depends on the time stirred in whey. 20-30 minutes is right for the Feta I make here with the longer time for the richer late season milk.
When the curds reach the proper dryness, allow them to settle to the bottom of the pot for 10 minutes.

Removing the whey:

Prepare sanitized molds to receive the curds. I use our Basic Kit Mold for this and usually find that 2-3 molds will be required depending on the yield from your milk. No cloth is needed for these molds, but if using a mold with less openings you can use a draining cloth to assist the drainage.

Remove the whey down to the curd level before transferring the curds to the draining mold. Very little acid will have been produced to this point.


Forming the Cheese:

Allow the curds to drain overnight keeping them at 68-72F for this time and turning in the molds frequently for the first 2 hours. Little or no weight is needed for this cheese, depending on how open/closed you like the feta texture. Here I use about 2 lbs (aproximately 1 qt of water) It will consolidate under its own weight quite well during draining. During this time the culture will continue to produce acidity and by the next morning or afternoon the cheese should be quite firm, consolidated and the smell of acid should be apparent (pH= 4.7-4.8).

 


The curd mass can now be cut into smaller pieces (1/2-1 lb each) to facilitate salt absorption in brining. If you find the curds are still too moist at this point, some dry salt will help. Allow draining for another 6-12 hrs. (final pH will be 4.5-4.6)

 

Salting the Feta

Now place in saturated brine for 8 hrs per 1 lb piece (4 hrs per 1/2 lb pieces).
Brine can be made by adding 2.5 lbs of non-iodized salt to 1/2 gal of water then topping up to 1 gal with water (there should be salt un-dissolved in the jar). If the brine is fresh add 1/2 tsp calcium chloride to the gallon (this will keep the brine from pulling calcium from the cheese). The brine should then be kept at 50- 52F . The brine can be filtered after use and reused.

Remove cheese blocks from brine and arrange on mats to drain. Allow assimilation of salt for 1-3 days at 48-56F covered loosely with sanitized cloth to prevent contamination. Turn each block several times a day to encourage draining/drying. This step will dry the surface, harden the cheese and allow the brine to stabilize throughout the feta.

Failure to do this can easily result in an unstable cheese when placed in the storage brine, in which case the calcium is stripped from the curd and the surface deteriorates in a matter of days.

Brine Storage of your Feta:

The brine for Feta storage is an 8% brine. Add sufficient 8% brine to cover the cheese, and ripen at 48-50F for up to 30 days. Subsequently store at 46-42F until consumed.

Finally prepare a storage salt brine of 6-8% (6-8 oz of salt in 3 qts of water will fill a 1 gallon jar to hold this batch), place Feta into a large container with lid and fill with the brine. Make sure the container has minimal head-space to avoid mold development. The feta can be aged in this brine for just a few weeks or up to a year or more at 45-55F. Younger cheese will be milder in flavor.

This tends to be a high salt cheese and if the salt is too high for your taste simply soak for several hours (up to a day) in milk before using.


More Recipes

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