I began the experiment of making cheese a few years back. It started with mozzarella, the gateway homemade cheese. Then there was finally a supplier of goat milk in Nashville, so I gave goat cheese a whirl. My parents gifted me a cheese press for Christmas one year, so I tried hard cheeses. But lets be honest, mozzarella doesnt always work, goats milk is expensive and my cheese was never as good as the store bought options, and making hard cheeses, aging, controlling humidity is just, well, hard.
But the one cheese I have made again, and again, and again – is feta.
Making cheese can be an intimidating endeavor, but do not let it scare you! The instructions below are long, you have to buy a few strange ingredients that you can’t get at the grocery store, and it takes patience – but it is SO worth it. Store bought feta will never taste as good, it will seemed dried out and lack flavor – but this feta is wonderfully tasty and will impress all your friends!
Like I said, these instructions are long. Read them, all the way through before you start – I mean it, all the way. There is alot to take in, but its really not a lot of actual physical labor. What is important is that you make sure you have a few hours at home to pay attention to the cheese off and on – and that you will not be skipping town within the next week. The initial preperation takes about 3 hours, but only about 30 minutes of that is active time. Following that the cheese ages for several days.
I must preface the recipe with a disclaimer – I am not a scientist, and most likely neither are you. I cannot stress enough the importance of sterilizing your equipment before you begin. Be safe, be smart.
The cheese making supplies such as the cultures below can be found through various websites such as New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, or locally in Nashville at All Seasons Gardening & Brewing Supply Co. The initial purchase of these cultures will last a long long time so consider it a worthwhile, fairly inexpensive investment in delicious cheese for years to come.
adapted from recipe by Standing Stone Farms
1.5 gallons whole milk
1/2 tsp calcium chloride***
1/8 tsp Mesophilic culture
1/4 tsp Lipase powder
1/2 tsp liquid rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup water
1/2 cup of Kosher salt per 1/2 gallon of water
6-8 quart pot
large slotted spoon
cheese cloth or flour sack dish cloth
Sterilize all your equipment before you begin by filling your pot completely with water and bring to a boil. Add all utensils and allow to boil for several minutes. Set utensils aside on a clean dry dish towel or paper towel. Plug the sink and pour hot water into the sink when you are ready to begin.
Add the milk to your sterilized pot. Set the filled pot into the sink of hot water. This will act like a double boiler to warm the milk. Warm the milk to 86°. Once the milk has hit this temp, remove the pot from the water and set on the counter.
Add the calcium chloride, culture & lipase. Stir well. Cover and let ripen for 1 hour. The milk should stay around 86° on its own, if it drops below, set it back in the warm water until it gets back up to temp.
Add the rennet and stir briskly for 15 seconds. Cover and let sit for 45 minutes, or until you get a “clean break”. You can check for a clean break by sticking a knife or thermometer, into the curd at an angle. Pull straight up out of the curd; if the curd breaks cleanly around the knife and whey runs into the crack that is made; you have a “clean break”. If this does not happen, allow to sit for another 10 minutes and try again.
Once you have a clean break, cut the curds into ½” pieces. Using a long knife held vertically, cut ½” slices all the way down. Turn the pot 90° and cut ½” slices the other direction, making a checkerboard pattern. Now hold the knife at a sideways 45° angle and retrace your cuts. Continue twisting the pot and cutting in this manner until the curd is all in roughly ½” pieces.
Let the curd rest for 10 minutes.
After resting, stir the curd gently. Hold the curd at 86° for 45 minutes. (it should still be close to this temp. If not, at this point your water bath is likely cold, so warm gently on the stove until it gets up to temp.) Carefully stir the curds every 10 minutes to prevent them from sticking together. This process of “cooking” the curd helps it toughen up and release its whey.
Line the colander with the cheesecloth, draping it over the sides so as to catch everything. If you want to save the whey to make ricotta, place a pot under the colander. Gently spoon out the all the curd into the cheesecloth. It should fit in one, but you may need to allow some of the whey to drain before you can reach that point.
Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together and hang the bag to drain. (I typically hang from a cabinet knob). Place a bowl underneath the hanging cheesecloth to catch the whey that drains off. After 2.5 hours, take the cheese down, and turn the cheese over in the cheesecloth. This turning will “even up” the cheese into a nice form.
After your cheese has hung for a total of 12-18 hours (or as long as 24), remove it from the cloth and cut it into usable size cubes/blocks. Sprinkle all with 2-3 Tbs of kosher salt and place them in a large, sterilized, sealable container. Cover and let sit at room temp (yes, I said room temp…) for 3-4 days. At least 1 time per day, lift a corner of the lid, and carefully drain out any whey that has drained out of the curds. Continue this process until the curd has hardened up to the texture of typical feta.
After your cheese has aged 3-4 days, add the brine to the container and place the covered container in the fridge. Allow to age for at least 1 week before eating to develop full flavor. Your feta will keep in the brine, refrigerated, for up to 6 months.
*** Some calcium chloride comes in powder form. To convert to liquid simply fill a small jar with water (I used a jam sized mason jar) and add calcium chloride until no more will dissolve. Start with 1 Tbs, shake… if all dissolves add more and continue. The jar will get warm (chemical reactions! Science!) but no pressure builds up. Use this mixture in the rations needed above. Keep remainder in the fridge for next time.
– cheese cloth or flour sack towels: best to use for cheese making and ONLY cheese making, so keep these tucked away somewhere they wont get used for other purposes, compromising your cheese. I love flour sack towels instead of typical cheese cloth because they last longer. These are a great option.