Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another (Better) Feta

Now that I'm getting a better handle on some basics of cheese-making, I thought I'd try another feta, this time with proper rennet and cow's milk. (Most of the feta sold in the US is made from cow milk rather than the traditional sheep or goat milk.)

I only had a gallon left of fresh, local whole milk so that's what I'm using. I also made a batch of mesophilic starter culture, now frozen in cubes. The shelf life in the freezer is fairly short, maybe a month or two... but it's easy and cheap to make.

First, the mesophilic starter culture: Put 2 cups of fresh store-bought cultured buttermilk in a bowl and allow to come to room temperature. After that, it needs 6-8 hours, or maybe even overnight depending on room temperature, for it to ripen enough to be a starter culture. It will thicken, like yogurt, as it ripens. (I left mine overnight.) Then carefully pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. 

Depending on the size of your ice cube trays, the cubes may run from under an ounce, to trays like mine shown above, where the cubes weighed almost 3 ounces. The small chunk in one corner is what remained after cutting off 2 ounces for this recipe.

When the cubes are frozen, put them in a well-marked container or zip-lock baggie and store in the freezer. Later I'll post about making your own thermophilic culture, which is also frozen in cubes... and they will look alike... so mark them carefully.

Back to making the feta: slowly warm a gallon of whole milk to 85ºF. Add 2 ounces of mesophilic starter culture and stir it in well. Cover, and allow to ripen for 2 hours.

A few minutes before the 2 hours is up, crush ¼ rennet tablet in a small bowl and mix with 3-4 tablespoons of distilled water. When it is fully dissolved and the time is up, slowly pour the rennet into the milk, stirring constantly with a whisk for at least 5 minutes. Cover and allow to set for 1-2 hours until a firm curd is set and a clean break is achieved.

Clean Break

Once the curds are set and a clean break is achieved, cut the curds into ½ inch cubes and allow them to set for about 10-15 minutes to set-up. 

After 1st cutting of curds

Then gently stir the cubes and cut any that are larger than ½ inch. Now allow the curds to set for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I'm getting to the part where I wish I had started this earlier in the day; my back is aching badly and I just want to be horizontal!)

This is half the curds

Line a colander or strainer with cheesecloth and drain the curds. After most of the whey has drained off, tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the "bag" to drain for 5 hours, or in my case, overnight. Leave the whey to ripen overnight too, and use it to make whey ricotta. (Hey, I have to try it at least once more!)

Make up a brine before the curds are fully drained so it is thoroughly chilled when the curds are ready. Put it in the freezer or refrigerator after it has cooled close to room temp so you don't add heat to the freezer/fridge.

Brine: ~⅞ cup Kosher salt to 2 quarts hot or boiling water. (Actually, 7 ounces of Kosher salt but I tried to estimate it in cups for those who don't have a good kitchen scale.)  This is a mild brine to use if you are going to keep the feta in the brine, which I am. If you want to only keep the feta in the brine for a few days, you might make a brine that's 10 oz. salt to 2 quarts water. I use distilled water because our town water is so hard (full of minerals).

I should have set my alarm to get up in the middle of the night when the curds had drained 5-6 hours... but I didn't. They were fine, but if I had done what I should, the 2 "balls" would have become one solid mass in the refrigerator. Once the curds are drained, put them in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1½ - 2 hours to chill. 

Then remove them and cut into slabs, then into smaller cubes. I left some in short slabs, and the rest in cubes. 

Put the feta in the ice-cold brine and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 5 days to take on some salt, and as long as 30 days. The longer the feta is in the brine, the more crumbly the it will be, and the saltier. You can remove the feta after a few days and pat it dry to store in an air-tight refrigerated container but I find feta keeps better in the brine... or at least in some diluted brine.

The Feta weighed just over 1½  pounds, from 1 gallon of whole milk.

Important Update 3/8/2011
Please do not follow this recipe. It turns to mush after just a few days. I'm working to make a better Feta and will post when I do.

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