How to Make Feta Cheese

Making Feta Cheese: A Great First Step Beyond Fresh Cheeses

How to Make Feta Cheese

Some hard cheeses are intimidating, but feta doesn’t need to be. Making feta cheese is a simple way to practice for more complicated recipes.

New cheese makers often start with fresh cheeses or learn how to make yogurt from scratch. That’s because jumping right into cultured and aged recipes is a big step. And though hard cheeses like cheddar or Roquefort aren’t that much more difficult, they involve more steps and additional ingredients. Making ricotta cheese requires milk, a slow cooker, and an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. It’s easy to master and almost foolproof unless you make a common beginner’s mistake and purchase ultra-pasteurized milk.

Making goat cheese has become popular with small-scale homesteaders because goats are smaller, less expensive, and require less space than cows. And, as I found out when I attended a Moroccan cooking class, that’s why goat and sheep cheeses are so popular in the Middle East. It’s all about space.

Dairy cattle need about an acre of pasture per cow. They also need grass or supplementary hay and grain. Goats will stand on dog houses and eat old Christmas trees. Though Italy contains rolling green hills, the drier Mediterranean areas are more mountainous and more prone to desert scrub. Goats and sheep are a better option.

Greeks learned how to make feta cheese at least five hundred years ago; it was first recorded in the Byzantine empire. Traditionally produced from sheep’s milk, it can also be a combination of sheep and goat or entirely out of goat’s milk. Feta attains its acridity from lipase, an enzyme which occurs naturally in sheep and goat milk, giving it that distinguished tang. The cheese is then stored in brine to intensify flavor even further.

Learning how to make feta cheese is a great option for novice cheesemakers for several reasons. It’s versatile, made with sheep, goat, or even cow milk. The recipe is quick, curing in less than a week where other cheeses may take up to a year. And it doesn’t require the cool, ventilated places which most aged cheeses need. Feta can be aged within a refrigerator.

how-to-make-feta-cheese
Photo by Shelley DeDauw

How to Make Feta Cheese, the Modern Way

Instead of moving to Crete and obtaining ewe’s milk, simply obtain pasteurized goat’s milk. Cow’s milk is also fine, but if you want the signature acidity you’ll also want to add extra lipase to the recipe. Avoid ultra-pasteurized dairy products; they’re a bane to cheese makers because proteins have been damaged from the high heat and usually don’t curdle.

Other ingredients can be found online or within brick-and-mortar brewing or culinary supply stores. Often, one-stop shopping at an appropriate website can provide all but the milk.

This recipe is one of many within Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making book:

  • 1 gallon pasteurized whole goat’s or cow’s milk
  • ¼ teaspoon lipase powder dissolved in ¼ cup nonchlorinated water (optional)
  • 1 packet powdered direct-set mesophilic starter
  • ½ tsp liquid rennet or ½ rennet tablet, dissolved in ¼ cup water
  • 2-4 tablespoons cheese salt

Optional:

  • 1/3 cup cheese salt
  • 1 teaspoon calcium chloride
  • ½ gallon water

Pour milk into a nonreactive pot such as glass or stainless steel. Add the lipase powder at this time, if you desire a stronger cheese. Heat the milk to 86 degrees then stir in the mesophilic starter culture. Cover and let it sit for an hour. This allows probiotics to grow and ripen the milk.

Add the rennet/water mixture and stir gently for a couple minutes then cover milk again and let it sit for an hour. This allows casein to coagulate so you can separate curds from whey.

During ripening and addition of rennet, keep the milk at 86 degrees. If you cannot maintain this within your kitchen, wrap the pot in towels or let it sit in a sink of warm water.

Using a long kitchen knife, cut the curd into one-inch cubes then let it sit about 10 minutes, allowing the yellowish whey to separate. Stir the curds for 20 more minutes, further breaking up the white cubes. Now line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the curd, catching whey if you wish to use it for other applications like feeding chickens or acidifying garden soil. Tie the cheesecloth into a bag and hang from a rolling pin or strong faucet, draining for six hours.

After those six hours, curds will be compacted into a solid chunk. Cut into one-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and store it in a covered container in the refrigerator, letting it age about five days.

This produces a mild, dry feta which is ready to be consumed in salads or ethnic dishes like spanakopita.

If your goat’s milk is fresh, you can then brine it for a stronger flavor or store it for more than a few days. Brining isn’t recommended for store bought milk because it can disintegrate, even with the addition of calcium chloride. Mix the cheese salt, calcium chloride, and water. The salt helps intensify flavor while the calcium chloride strengthens cubes. Keep cheese in the brine for up to thirty days.

This recipe makes about a pound of cheese if whole milk is used. Options include adding the lipase for a stronger flavor or leaving it out if you want a milder, more yogurty taste. Adding a few drops of calcium chloride at the beginning make a stronger, drier curd.

Excellent Uses of Feta Cheese

  • Marinated in Italian dressing or herbed oil.
  • Sprinkled atop roasted beets and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
  • Served with antipasto such as Kalamata olives.
  • Folded into puff pastry or phyllo dough spinach pockets.
  • Crumbled with fresh oregano and chopped tomatoes, sprinkled onto omelets.

Now that you know how to make feta cheese, what’s your next step? Will you try different feta recipes? Add more lipase next time? Or are you ready to move onto more complicated hard cheese recipes?

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