Homemade feta SUCCESS!

The second time was the charm in my attempt at homemade feta cheese.  Apparently, even the slightest mistake can ruin the whole process.  My normal style of cooking is very anti-recipe, but patience and precision are quite important to the art of cheesemaking!

The first time I accidentally let the milk get a little too warm –like, 90° instead of 86°.   I also decided to halve the recipe, since who needs two pounds of feta?  But that may have been a fatal mistake as well. The milk curdled but didn’t form together right, so I ended up with just a mess of curdled milk.

This time, however, I followed the recipe very carefully, patiently watching the thermometer move up.  And miraculously, it worked!  Now I have a batch of delicious feta, with which I will make a new recipe tonight.  I’ll report on that later, if it turns out, but for now, here is the step-by-step process for homemade feta cheese.

First, a few tips:

-Avoid milk that is ultra-pasteurized, which denatures the proteins necessary for successful cheese.  It would also be flavorless.  Normal pasteurization processes involve heating milk briefly to about 165°, which destroys pathogens but maintains the integrity of the milk.  Ultra-pasteurization heats milk to super-high temperatures, which provides a very long shelf life but will make it very difficult to make cheese.

-If you are lucky, you may have a cheese supply store where you can purchase lipase powder, rennet, and other uncommon ingredients.  If not, these can be easily found online.

-The cheesecloth used for cheesemaking is different than what you see in your normal grocery store. If you are purchasing the other supplies, I recommend picking up some cheesecloth there; otherwise, use multiple layers of normal cheesecloth.

This recipe is from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll.

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 teaspoon lipase powder diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water and allowed to sit for 20 minutes
1 packet direct-set mesophillic starter
1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water
2-4 tablespoons sea salt or cheese salt

Method

Sanitize all pots, equipment and working area and be sure to keep hands clean at all times.

Combine the milk and diluted lipase in a large pot placed inside of a larger pot with a few inches of water, sort of like a double boiler.  The milk needs to be heated very gradually and indirect heat will work best.

Heat the milk to exactly 86°.  This took about half an hour for me.

Add the starter and stir to combine.  Cover, remove from heat and allow to ripen for one hour.

Check periodically that the temperature is still approximately 86° and gently return to heat if necessary (this was not necessary for me).

After one hour, add the diluted rennet and stir with an up-and-down motion for two minutes.  Cover again and allow to set for one hour.  Again, be sure the temperature remains constant at 86°.

After this point, the curds should have solidified together and you should be able to make a clean break:  insert the thermometer at an angle and if the curds can be sliced cleanly around the tip, they are ready to be cut.

Using a long knife, cut the curds into 1/2 inch cubes.  Cut lines, spaced 1/2 inch apart, in the curds all the way to the bottom of the pot.  Turn the pot 90° and cut 1/2 inch lines perpendicular to the existing ones.  Then go through these same slices at a 45° angle to cut these long columns of cheese into cubes.

Allow the cut curds to sit for 10 minutes.

Stir the curds very gently for 20 minutes.  Cut any larger curds down to size and try to avoid breaking the cubes up too much, otherwise you will lose too much butter fat.

Strain the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth.

Tie the corners of the bag together and hang over the sink for 6 hours.

After 6 hours, untie the bag and cut the curds into 1 inch cubes.  Sprinkle the cubes with salt to taste.  Age in a covered container for 4-5 days in your refrigerator before enjoying.

Variations:

-Use goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, which is a bit more traditional in Greece (in the EU, only cheese made with sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk can be labeled as feta).  The lipase powder would not be required.

-For a stronger flavor, age the cheese for 30 days in a brine solution of 1/2 gallon water, 1 teaspoon calcium chloride, and 1/3 cup salt.

This feta was so delicious, it’s hard to believe you can make it easily in your own kitchen.  I’m looking forward to trying it again!

-R

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