Almost always associated with a fresh Greek salad, salty and soft feta cheese provides a creamy texture to the crunchy veggies and olives. Because it’s cut into blocks and packaged in a salty whey brine, feta is referred to as a ‘pickled cheese’. One of the main components of the spinach and filo pie spanakopita, feta is also eaten as part of a mezze platter and is added to dishes with fish and meat as well. Although the cheese doesn’t melt, it can be used to add texture to baked pasta dishes and pizza, mixed with pesto to make a stuffing for chicken breasts or crumbled over a baked potato with a sprinkling of oregano.
We like to add it to quiches with spinach or butternut and when braaing we make a foil parcel containing feta, chopped tomatoes and garlic – heat it on the grill and serve it with warm homemade bread.
Ingredients and equipment
- 2 liters fresh milk (cow or goat)
- 1 tablespoon fresh plain yogurt (with live cultures)
- 1/2 tablet rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
- 1 large pot with lid (stainless steel with heavy bottom is best otherwise use an enamel pot. (No aluminium or cast iron pots)
- Cheese cloth, muslin or dishtowel
- Warm milk to 30°C (86°F), stirring it regularly so that it does not burn on the bottom. Remove it from the heat and set aside.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of yogurt with an equal amount of milk to blend. Stir the blended yogurt and milk into the warmed milk and mix thoroughly. Cover and and allow the inoculated milk to sit for one hour at room temperature.
- While the inoculated milk sits, dissolve 1/2 tablet of rennet in fresh, cool water. (I used powdered rennet – 1 capsule)
- After the inoculated milk has sat for one hour, add the dissolved rennet and stir to mix thoroughly.
- Let the inoculated, renneted milk sit covered overnight at room temperature. (I did this step in the day time and 5 hours was sufficient.)
- Check for a clean break the next morning, by which time the milk should have gelled and some of the whey will have separated.
Close-up of clean break
Not so clean break
- Cut the curd by starting at one side, and cut straight down to bottom. Make the next cut 1/2 inch from and parallel to the first, but sloping slightly (the sliced curd will be wider at bottom than top). Repeat increasing angle with each cut. Turn the pot 90° and repeat cuts. Repeat cuts and turning two more times. The curd pieces should be about ½ inch cubes or slices as you prefer.
- With a very clean hand and arm, reach to the bottom and gently lift the curds to stir. Cut the large pieces that appear with a table knife so that they are ½ inch cubes.
- Let the cut curds sit, with occasional stirring, for 10-15 minutes until curd is somewhat contracted.
- Decant off the whey through the colander lined with the cheese cloth (folded double), pouring the curds into the cheese cloth. Save the whey for a later step.
- Let the cheese drain in the cloth until no more whey drains out (about 2-4 hours). It may be drained at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- Place the drained curds into a bowl. Mix in a 1/2 of a tspn of salt, breaking up the curd.
- Press the cheese into a mold. Line the can withcheese cloth, place the curds inside, fold over the ends of the cloth, place the end on top, and place a weight on top of that. Let sit overnight.
- Prepare pickling whey brine (12.5% salt): mix 350ml of whey (saved from before) with 5 tablespoons of salt. Stir to dissolve. The brine must be acidic or else the cheese will melt on the surface. The whey is made acidic by letting it sit out at room temperature, covered, for 12-24 hrs.
- Cut the cheese into 1.5 inch cubes and place them in a wide-mouth jar. Pour brine over to cover.
- Let the cheese pickle for several days in the refrigerator. The cheese will become drier and more easily crumbled with time.
- Store in the refrigerator. Rinse before use to remove excess salt.
Great tasting feta cheese. The process takes much longer than cottage cheese but much shorter than aged cheeses. If you work outside of your home I would recommend starting the whole process on a Friday evening – that way you should get your cheese into the fridge to pickle by Sunday morning. There are only a few steps to do each day so it’s not labour intensive.
My recipe is adapted from this one at WikiHow.
- How is cheese made? (greenanswers.com)
- Let the cheesemaking begin – cottage cheese (slowvelder.wordpress.com)
- Recipe: Nutty Cheese Meze (funnybunnycooks.com)
- Making our own cheese (saffronandhoney.wordpress.com)
- Yogurt & Cheese Making (julqrb.wordpress.com)