Feta to an Israeli is like Allstate to Dennies Haysbert, like Bella is to Edward, like ants are to a picnic, like butter is to Paula Deen. Do you get the picture?
Imagine my horror when I first stepped into an American grocery store in search of my beloved Feta and spotted a tiny block of it in the special cheese refrigerator with a price tag of almost $7! I eat this block in one Greek salad.
So I did without it for a while and when I could go no longer without my Feta fix I spent hundreds to buy it regularly from the grocery store.
One day I decided enough was enough. I don’t have goats or cows, but surely there was a way to make feta cheaply at home from store bought milk. And so I was on a mission.
I always wanted to make cheese. I decided Feta will be a good cheese to start with. I had to spend some money on buying the right equipment and other cheese making supplies before I tried making it. You can read about my equipment here.
I’ve been making Feta for a while now. I certainly learned some things the hard way, but it’s not that difficult, just a long process. The original recipe I used is from Mary Jane Toth book A Cheesemaker’s Journey. I changed it a bit, but for the most part, it’s still very much the same. It is a great book with lots of great recipes.
How To Make Feta Cheese From Store-Bought Milk:
And replaced them with two cups of cream (which is how much there is in a medium carton of cream).
I then clipped the thermometer on the pot, making sure the end of it is in the milk and started heating the milk slowly. I used a long slotted spoon to stir it every couple of minutes.
Cover the pot with the lid.
When you uncover the pot, it will look like nothing happened. This is ok. Check the temperature to make sure your milk is still warm (if not, fill the sink with hot water and place the pot in the sink).
When you uncover the pot after an hour, you’ll find that your milk has completely coagulated. This is where the fun begins.
Start by cutting the curds vertically in 1/2-inch wide rows. Make sure you reach all the way down to the bottom of the pot.
Cover the pot again and let the curds rest for 5 minutes. It is important that the temperature stays 86F. If your pot is cooling down, put it in a sink filled with hot water instead of covering it with a blanket.
Place a large bowl in the sink if you want to catch the whey. I use it in bread recipes instead of water. It has a lot of protein and very healthy for you so you should try to use it. You can find great ways to use whey here.
Place a colander on top of the bowl. I found this big one at a Chinese market for $4. I don’t know what they use it for in the Chinese kitchen, but it was perfect for cheesemaking because of its size.
Line the colander with cheesecloth…
A shoestring works well too.
I have this hook on my cabinet door to hang the curds on. I think I got it from IKEA.
Gently uncover the cheese…
Now it’s salting time. In a small bowl, place the total amount of salt you want to use (usually between two to three tablespoons depending on how salty you like your cheese). I use three tablespoons of kosher salt. It has to be kosher salt or cheese salt, don’t use regular table salt or you’ll end up with green cheese.
Place the cheese in a plastic container and salt both sides. Use only one-third of the salt you put in the small bowl.
I was able to fit all my cheese in one big container. Cover the container and leave the cheese on your kitchen counter tops for the next 24 hours. During that 24 hours period salt two or three more times until you use all the salt. Make sure to turn the cheese gently and salt both sides.
What you Shouldn’t Do…
If you are going to use the cheese within a week or so after the 5 days of aging you don’t have to do anything. Just keep it in the same container and use as much as you need.
However…. If you need to keep it for longer, you’ll need to take some extra steps. What you shouldn’t do is keep it in brine. Yes, yes, I know. All the cheesemaking books tell you to mix salt with water and keep your cheese in it, but from my experience, if you do that your cheese is going to melt. Yup, simply dissolve into the brine.
I had this happen more than once and believe me, it is very frustrating!
After a little bit of research, I found out that I wasn’t the only one it happened to. The problem is either your brine has a lower level of calcium that causes calcium to leach out of the cheese and change the cheese structure. Or the pH level of the cheese is too high which again causes the calcium to leave the cheese resulting in it melting into the brine.
If you insist on making a brine use the whey instead of water and add salt to it. You can also try to add a little bit of calcium chloride, vinegar or citric acid.
Cut each piece of cheese into half inch cubes…
Salt the whey. Then add calcium, vinegar or citric acid.
Place the cheese in a jar and pour the whey over it. Cover the jar with its lid and store in the refrigerator. Check it every couple of days. If you notice that the cheese is starting to change its texture and melt you can take it out of the brine, place in a plastic container and salt again with kosher or cheese salt. You might be able to save it.
I prefer saving my cheese in olive oil instead. I fill a jar half way with cheese. Add two cloves of garlic….
A little bit of thyme or rosemary….
I fill the rest of the jar with cheese and then pour in the olive oil.
I keep it on my counter. It should last for a long time but to be honest, I don’t know how long since we usually eat it within a week or two.
You might think to yourself that this is a lot of olive oil, and this kind of oil is not cheap. You are right, but the oil does not go to waste. It is being flavored with the garlic and the thyme, and you can use it to dress a salad or fry your eggs or whatever else you do with olive oil. It just gets more flavorful.
I would love to hear from you… Do you make feta at home? Did you have any success in keeping it in brine? Or do you keep it in oil?