Friday, 8 July 2011

My First Cheese - Feta

Sunday the 15th February 2009 was a monumental day.  I made my very first cheese! 

All my life I have wanted to give it a go, but never made the time or found the opportunity.  Since trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, I have seized as many opportunities as I can, and willing to learn new skills where I can.  This golden opportunity was too good to pass up.

The Cheese Making Workshop was held at our local community centre.  The two ladies who ran the workshop were just fabulous.  Dorothy and Loraine made the day a relaxed affair, and no question was too hard to answer.  I could see that between them, they had years of cheese making experience.

So, starting at the beginning, I rocked up at about 0950, after having had to turn around once because I forgot my wallet.  Yes, readers, I was that excited!  I was not the first to arrive, and met most of the other students.  They were are friendly bunch, with 3 men and 8 ladies in the class.  We were asked to pick our preference of cheese recipes, and being a clever lad and having done a little research before hand, I decided to ensure that the fruits of my labour were going to be able to be sampled with in a few days.  Therefore I chose to make Feta.  One lady chose Wensleydale (hush Wallace and Gromit), and would you believe that the majority chose Parmesan.  The reason I was a bit shocked was because Feta takes 2-3 days before you can eat it, Wensleydale 1-3 months before maturity, and Parmesan 9-12 months before it matures!  All worth while, but if I have learnt any thing on my sustainable journey, it is that if you put effort into anything, you must be able to reap the rewards quickly, which then gives you a sense of achievement that pushes you to carry on.  The other thing to take into consideration is that the harder cheeses must mature at a temperature of 10-15C for the entire time.  It is very hard to keep anything at that temp here in summer without a cellar or modified refrigerator which at the time I did not own.
Anyway, enough babbling, here is what I saw when I first arrived.

Feta 001

On the table is a small gas camp stove, a pot with water, and a 20 litre bain marie with 10 litres of full cream milk.  The pot acted as a double boiler.  Next to the spoon is a cute hair net (no photos of me wearing it either) that we had to wear so as not to get hair in the cheese.
It is illegal in Australia to make cheese out of non-pasteurised milk.  Pasteurisation kills certain bacteria in the milk that can breed when the temperature of milk is raised during the cheese making process.  To pasteurise milk, simply bring the temperature up to 68C, hold it there for 1 minute, then cool rapidly.  We were already using store bought milk, so it was already treated.  Next we had to reverse the homogenisation process.  Apparently homogenisation shrinks the milk fat globules, which makes it nearly impossible to make into cheese.  To reverse this process, we added 1 teaspoon of calcium chloride to 2 tablespoons of boiled rainwater which was then added to the milk and stirred for 25 seconds.

I then had to raise the temp of the milk to 32C, and keep it there.  Once at temperature, I got to add 10 grains of Mesophilic starter culture and a quarter teaspoon of lipase powder mixed with 50 ml of boiled rainwater.  Here is the milk at temperature with the starter and lipase mixed in (not very exciting).  You must not let the milk get over 40C or it will kill this type of culture.

Feta 002

At this stage it must ripen for 45 minutes.  The starter and lipase gives the cheese its distinct sharp flavour.  After the time had elapsed, the rennet is added.  The temperature had to be raised again to 32C, and then 2.5ml of rennet is added to 16ml of boiled rainwater, then added to the milk with a quick stir.  At this stage you cannot reheat the milk, because something magical happens.  The milk starts to change composition into curds and whey (Miss Muffett's please stand).  For my cheese this process took about 40 minutes.  I was told not to stir it during the setting.  This is what it looks like when set.  Click to enlarge and you will see where I had to put my sterilised finger in to test the firmness.

Feta 003

Once firm enough, I then had to cut the curd into 1 cm cubes using a whisk.  Basically you gently stab the whisk vertically into the curd until you reach the bottom.  You repeat this all over the curd three times.  Then you leave it to sit for 5 minutes.  Here is the cut curd.

Feta 004

Now the boring part.  You then have to stir every 10 minutes for about 2 minutes for two hours!  You also have to maintain the temperature at 32C again during the process.  It was during this time I decided to buy a cheese making kit, because I was determined to make more types other than Feta.  The kit was $122 and from looking at other cheese making web sites, it was great value.  I believe I managed to make at least 60kg of cheese with the kit ingredients!
This is what it looks like after the two hours.  You will notice that the curds and whey have really separated and the curd sinks to the bottom.

Feta 005

The whey looks a little yellow doesn't it.  I bet you are thinking that this is why some cheeses are yellow.  Not so my friends.  The yellow in most cheeses is a food colouring.  Real cheese is usually off-white!

Next the curds are strained through a cheese cloth and the whey kept for later on.  Don't throw the whey away (that is a mouthful), because you can make something special out of it.  I will show you later.  The cheese (finally) gets returned back to the bain marie and you massage it a little until rubbery.  Here is my rubbery feta.

Feta 006

Now it gets strained for a second time and put into the basket (mould).  Luckily they had a cheese press and we could speed up the process.  Here is my semi finished cheese.

Feta 007

It was still a bit watery, and had a little whey still oozing from it.  I wrapped it in foil for the journey home. 

I said goodbye to my classmates, thanked Dorothy and Loraine for a great class and told them I was coming back in three weeks for the mould cheese course.  They gave me 3 litres of whey to take home.

Upon arrival at home, I placed the Feta on a wire rack to dry.  It must be fairly dry before you brine the cheese.  The tray is to catch any excess whey still trying to escape.

Feta 008


Now for the surprise!   If you add a cup of milk and bring the whey to a temperature of 80-90C and hold it there for 30-50 minutes, the excess protein in the whey coagulates into Ricotta cheese!  What a bonus.  It tastes fantastic as well.  Nice with crackers, but Kim thinks it needs a little salt to sharpen it up.

Feta 012

Back to the Feta.  I left it on the kitchen bench overnight with a vinegar soaked tea towel (rung out tight) covering it all.  This morning it was quite dry and about 50ml of whey was in the drip tray.  

I then added the Feta to the brine solution.  The brine is simply 3 tablespoons of non-iodinised salt to 1 litre of rainwater and bring it to the boil.  Here is the photo from this morning with the Feta in the solution.  The brine must be cold before adding the cheese to it, otherwise the cheese absorbs too much salt.

Feta 010

I used a food grade plastic container, and then put it in the fridge until I got home from work.  My son Ben met me at the door and was so excited that I was home.  Not because he wanted to see his Dad safely home, but to taste Dad's first homemade cheese!  And taste it we did.  It was wonderful and had a firm consistency.  I liken it to a texture in between the softness of a Danish Feta and the crumbliness of a Greek Feta.  In the middle of the two textures and just right.  It was so nice that my wife Kim and I had some more in our home grown garden salad for dinner.  It was a great feeling that I had made or grown everything in the salad bowl!

The feta should last for a few months in the brine solution, as long as I keep it submerged.  To keep it longer you can cut it into 1 cm cubes and place it in some olive oil seasoned with herbs and garlic.  It takes about a week for the flavours to infuse when storing it in this method.

So stay turned over the next few months (and years I hope), as I show you how to make other cheeses that I have made since this initial cheese making workshop.

If you ever get the chance to do a cheese making workshop, I can't recommend it highly enough.  It was a great day, fantastic fun and very fulfilling. I have never looked back since!

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Very informative

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  2. Hi Gavin
    First a huge "Thank you" for your great blog(s). I´ve been a silent reader for ages now. When you see "a visitor from Uppsala, Sweden has just joined the blog"....that´s me lurking there...
    Inspired by you I have just finished my second piece of Feta. Great stuff! But for the second time I´ve made a mess of the ricotta. How much of the whey do you start off with before adding the cup of milk? Again I am left with loads of yellow whey and about a tablespoon of ricotta. I used all the whey left from the Feta - well over 2 liters.
    Greetings from Uppsala/Sweden
    Ramona K

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  3. Hi Ramona K,

    Thanks for un-lurking! I would suggest that if you only have 2 litres of whey, that it would be safe enough to add 1 litre of whole milk to it, then heat it up and make the ricotta. You will get much more cheese that way.

    Gav x

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  4. Thanks for the quick reply Gav. I used a cup of milk to the oceans of whey left from the Feta - more like 3+ liters than 2. No wonder I didn´t get much ricotta. Still, waste not want not, I´ll use that for the batch of buns I have on the go.
    The first mozzarella turned out fine following your instructions. For lunch today we had mushrooms I picked in the surrounding woods, topped with the mozzarella I made, together with the last tomatoes from the greenhouse, served on toasted wholemeal bread baked by my husband. Fine dining!
    I can tell I´m going to get hooked on cheese making......
    Ramona

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  5. Hi Gavin,

    i have made my first Feta & Cheddar on Friday and both turned out great. I just have one wee question about the Feta. I decided to put in a brine(i left it for four days) and today was the day were i decided to try some and used in my salad, but when i took the Feta out of it's Brine, it felt slimy(only on the outsides 1/2 centimeter)the insides taste and look like a good Feta. Is the slimyness normal? Did your Feta have that too?
    Should i take the Feta out of the Brine now and just put it in a tupperware?

    Greetings from across the Tasman!!
    Antje

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  6. Hi Antje,

    The sliminess is normal if you do not add a little vinegar and calcium chloride to the brine. If you want a firm feta have a look at my post titled Brine.

    To fix yours you can scrape of the runny cheese and place it in a new brine made to the recipe above.

    Gav x

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  7. Thank you so much for that!

    Have a great week and happy cheese making on Friday!:)

    Antje

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  8. Thanks Gavin, When I first did a google search for cheese it was "Feta Cheese" thats when I came across your Youtube Camembert clip....Yeeh Ha, now I have the know how for both of my favorite cheeses...Fantastic!! Your a champion, cant wait to get started.

    Barb... Cambridge NZ

    ReplyDelete