Build An Ark: Making Feta Cheese!

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Day One:
Very Important
Make sure that you sterilize all your equipment

Strainer • Cheesecloth • Stockpot • 1 gallon goat’s milk
¼ tsp Rennet • ¼ tsp Lipase Powder • Mesophilic Bacteria • Thermometer
Slotted spoon • Large knife • Kosher, or coarse, salt

Heat the milk to 86° F and then remove from the stove. Add the mesophilic bacteria and lipase (dissolve each in ¼ cup of water before adding), stirring well. Cover and let sit for one hour.

The mesophilic bacteria is a type of bacteria present in fresh goat’s milk. To ripen it, a bit of fresh milk is left out over night or up to a day or two, then added to the morning milking. Today, it is produced in large quantities which standardizes it and theoretically makes it safer to use. It is available as both a direct set starter and a mother culture, which can be propagated and used regularly, much like a sour dough starter.

Lipase is an enzyme produced for digestion in the stomach and intestines. It produces a strong flavor in cheeses like Feta, Romano, Pecorino, Parmesan, Mozzarella, and many others.

After one hour, add the rennet (dissolved in ¼ cup of water). Stir briskly for 15 seconds, and then stop the milk from moving with the spoon. Cover, and maintain the milk at 86° F for 30-40 minutes. My kitchen is pretty warm, so I just left it in a warm spot and checked periodically to make sure the temperature was OK. Don’t disturb the milk during this time; it’s important that it set properly.

Rennet is used to coagulate milk in cheese making. It is extracted from the stomachs of milk fed kids, lambs or calves. In calves, it’s extracted from the fourth stomach.

The stomach is cleaned, then salted and dried. To obtain the rennet, a small piece of the dried stomach is broken off, and soaked in water, or ground into a powder. Store bought rennet is produced from the stomachs of kids, lambs or calves that are slaughtered for veal, etc.

After 30-40 minutes, you should see a clean break. To check, I stick my knife in at an angle, and pull it straight up. The milk has now split into a solid and a liquid (curds and whey).

Cutting the Curds!
Now it’s time to cut the curds. Cut parallel lines about ½” apart, then turn the pan 90°s. Cut parallel lines ½” apart again, and turn the pan 90°s. Now, with my knife at a 45° angle, I retrace my first lines. Then, I turn the pan 90°s, and again retrace my previous cuts at a 45° angle. I do this two more times, and by the end, it’s hard to tell where my original cuts were! That’s OK.

Let the curds rest now for 10 minutes, and check to make sure it’s still at 86° F. If it’s gotten a little low, I just put it on the stove to bring it back up to temp, then remove it again.

After 10 minutes, I stir the curds, and then let them rest. For the next 40 minutes, I am “cooking” the curds, although direct heat has little to do with it. I stir them every 10 minutes or so. They’re releasing whey now, and after 40 minutes, you can see the difference.

I’ve lined my colander with cheesecloth that I’ve dampened slightly. The moisture helps the cloth to cling better, and now I pour the curds in.

Once the curds have drained slightly, I tie the four corners together, and hang it over the sink. Notice the whey running out.

After 4 hours, I untie the cheese and turn it over, retie it and hang it back over the sink for another 20 hours or so. This helps the shape even out, as you can see.

Day Two:

After 24 hours of hanging, I take the cheese down and unwrap it. I cut it into chunks, about 1” x 3”, and salt all the sides. Then I place it into a covered plastic container and put it on the counter for 3 or 4 days.

Day Five:

Notice how much more whey has separated from my cheese

Time to make my brine:
The brine is made with ½ cup of salt per ½ gallon of water. I add the salt after boiling the water, then bring the brine down to below room temperature.

I rinse the cheese blocks off before putting them into my jars, then pour the brine in to cover it. The cheese will be ready to eat after 4 weeks, and will be good for up to a year. The longer the cheese sits in the brine, the firmer it becomes.


Five Weeks:

My Feta!
Sprinkled with olive oil and oregano
served with my dehydrated tomatoes
packed last summer in garlic and olive oil
and black olives.

This is sooo delicious!