Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Homemade Feta

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Since trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, I have seized as many opportunities as I can, and have been willing to learn new skills where I can.  Back in February 2009, I attended a Cheese making workshop and since then, have made over 15 different types of cheese.

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.  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, friends, 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, 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 this 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.

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 Mesophylic 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 a very exciting picture).  You must not let the milk get over 40C or it will kill the culture.

Feta 002

At this stage it must ripen for 45 minutes.  The starter and lipase gives the cheese its distinct 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 should be able 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 is 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 the instructors 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-iodised 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 home-made 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 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.  Here is some marinated Feta that I made a few months after the course.