4 litres milk: fresh cow, goat, sheep
¼ tsp mesophilic starter, optional
¼ tsp thermophilic starter
1 pinch lipase, optional
¼ tsp calcium chloride
¼ tsp | 1.25ml calf rennet or
1/8 tsp | 0.7ml microbial rennet
1 tbsp cooled, boiled water
Brine (12%): 150g | ½ cup plain salt mixed in 2 litres
Brine (15%): 540g | 19 oz plain salt mixed in 4 litres
Prep time 3.5 hours
Holding time 24 hours
Curing/ageing 3 weeks
Feta is my favourite recipe to teach to the beginner cheesemaker, and this recipe is from my new book, How to Make Cheese. Curing and ageing this cheese is as simple as placing it in salted water in the fridge, and what could be easier than that? It’s foolproof, and you’ll get a fantastic-tasting cheese at day 10 or day 21, or even at six months if you steep it in olive oil.
I use both mesophilic and thermophilic cultures to give the feta a great flavour. Goat or sheep milk is the traditional base but I’ve found it every bit as successful using cows’ milk or combining milks
1. Warm the milk to 37°C in a bain-marie, then add the mesophilic starter – this is optional but good for flavour (I use R-704) – then the thermophilic starter (I use TCC-3) and the lipase (optional, also for flavour).
2. Stir gently for 30 seconds, then wait 30 minutes, keeping the pot at 37°C during this time. Add hot water to the outer pot of the bain-marie as required to maintain the temperature.
3. Dilute the calcium chloride in 1 tbsp of cooled, boiled water and add to the milk, then stir for 30 seconds. Using calcium chloride is optional but recommended if you’re using goat, sheep or shop-bought milk because they don’t coagulate as easily as fresh cows’ milk.
4. Dilute the rennet (I use Hannilase microbial rennet) in 1 tbsp of cooled, boiled water, add to the milk and stir gently for 1 minute. Cover with a sanitised lid and leave it undisturbed for 60 minutes to allow the curd to set. Hold the temperature at 37°C by adding hot water to the outer pot of the bain-marie as required.
5. Test the curd for correct set by cutting across the centre of the pot to the bottom, making two halves. Each side of the cut should be sharp – if it is very soft and floppy, check the temperature is correct and leave it for another 5 minutes. Once set, cut the curd into 2cm cubes and leave for 30 minutes, again holding the temperature at 37°C.
6. Stir for one revolution of the pot as slowly and as gently as you can, once every 30 minutes for the next hour and a half. You will stir three times in total – each stir should take no more than 20 seconds. The curds are very fragile at this stage and all you want to do by stirring is stop them from clumping together.
7. Ladle the curds carefully into sanitised moulds and leave on a sanitised draining mat overnight (at least 12 hours) at room temperature. Turn the moulds over 3-4 times if possible at hour 1, hour 2, hour 4 and hour 8.
8. Make up the brine of either 12% or 15%: if you like a lightly salted cheese, use the 12% mix; if you like a saltier, European-style feta, use the 15% mix. Remove the cheese from the moulds and place in the brine in a sanitised, airtight plastic container. You should be able to handle the cheeses without your fingers penetrating the outside. If they are too soft and wobbly when you try to pick them up, leave them on the draining mat for a few more hours until they are firmer.
9. Store at 10°C in the brine solution. Feta takes about 4-6 weeks to ripen, but may be eaten after Day 10, and cubed and placed in olive oil after Day 21. Once ripening is finished, you should eat it within 10 days.
• If this cheese is too salty for you, soak it in whole milk for 30 minutes before using.
• Occasionally a feta will start to ‘weep’ into the brine, and go soft and mushy. If this happens, add 1 tsp of white vinegar to the brine which will stop the feta dissolving, or remove the cheese from the brine altogether and store it dry, on a mat in a container with the lid on, in your fridge. However, if it is not immersed in salted water it will only keep a few weeks in total.
• The European palate likes feta much saltier than this recipe so you can increase the salt percentage of the brine to your taste.
© Jean Mansfield, How to Make Cheese, www.makecheese.co.nz