Small Batch

How to Make Feta Cheese

By • August 27, 2013 • 8 Comments

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: With some special ingredients and a bit of patience, you can easily make crumbly, salty feta cheese at home. Mary Karlin, author of Mastering Fermentation, shows us how.

Homemade Feta Cheese on Food52

Feta is one of the most popular and easy-to-make cultured cheeses: it requires a minimal amount of cheese making skill and offers rewarding, delicious results. It can be made either firm or crumbly in texture, depending on your preference and the culture used. Whether brine-cured or dry-salted, feta is most often used crumbled, cubed, or cut into slabs.

Due to the time feta spends in a salty liquid, much of its own moisture has been drawn out into the brine. This makes the cheese crumbly and difficult to melt; think of it as an ingredient or a garnish. It can be added to a savory stuffing in roasted or grilled meat, fish, poultry, or vegetables; folded into the batter of corn bread; or tossed into an orzo salad. If the feta has been firmly pressed when made, it can be cut into chunks, brushed with olive oil and then grilled in a kebab.

More: Once you make your feta, toss it with orzo for a Greek-inspired salad.

Orzo Salad from Food52

When allowed to age and dry in the refrigerator, the feta’s saltiness will dissipate, rendering the cheese grateable and more delicate in flavor. Grate a little feta dust on hot, grilled herb flatbread, and serve with smoky wood-roasted peppers for a delicious casual lunch. 

Feta also pairs nicely with a sweet counterpoint. Think flavorful honey drizzled over grilled stone fruit or figs, topped with crumbled feta. During warm weather, it can be cubed or crumbled and then tossed in with peak-of-season tomatoes, basil, and watermelon. Add minced jalapeño for some heat if you choose. 

More: Drizzle your feta with thyme-infused honey.

Roasted Feta with Thyme-Infused Honey from Food52

Because feta has been cured with salt, little additional salt is needed when cooking with it. If the feta is too salty for you, gently rinse off the exterior brine or soak in cold water before using.

Note: Specialized cheese-making ingredients and supplies (like the starter and lipase powder needed for this recipe) can be purchased online from The Beverage People. Other resources can be found here

Crumbly Feta Cheese

Makes 1 pound

1 gallon pasteurized whole goat milk
1/8 teaspoon mild lipase powder, dissolved in 1⁄4 cup cool nonchlorinated water 20 minutes before using
1/4 teaspoon direct-set mesophilic starter (preferably ?MM 100 or MA 011)
1/4 teaspoon liquid calcium chloride, diluted in 1⁄4 cup cool, nonchlorinated water
1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet, diluted in 1⁄4 cup cool, nonchlorinated water
2 to 4 tablespoons kosher or flake sea salt
10 ounces kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal) dissolved in 1⁄2 gallon cool, nonchlorinated water and chilled to 55° F (optional, for brine)

First, heat your milk and diluted lipase in a pot until they reach 86° F. Sprinkle the starter over top, and after two minutes, whisk to combine. Cover, maintaining a temperature of 86° F, and allow the milk to ripen for 1 hour. Whisk in the diluted calcium chloride for a few minutes, then whisk in the rennet.

Cover and allow to sit at 86° F for 1 hour. Once your curds solidify and the whey has floated to the top, cut the curds into cubes. Let sit for 10 more minutes at 86° F. 

Using a flexible rubber spatula, gently stir the curds for 20 minutes, raising the temperature to 90° F. This will release more whey and keep the curds from matting together. The curds will look more pillow-like in shape at the end of this process. Let them rest for 5 minutes, undisturbed; they will settle to the bottom of the pot.

Homemade Feta Cheese on Food52  Homemade Feta Cheese on Food52

Line a strainer with dampened cheesecloth or butter muslin, leaving excess cloth hanging over the sides of the strainer. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the curds into the prepared strainer.

Tie the corners of the cloth together to create a draining sack, slip a wooden spoon handle through the knot, and hang over a deep cooking pot or bucket to drain for 10 minutes. Transfer the curds from the cheesecloth to a square feta cheese mold, press them into the corners, generously salt the surface, and allow to finish draining. After 1 hour, flip the cheese over, return to the mold, and generously salt the surface again. This will help even out the texture and firm the cheese. Cover the molds with cheesecloth and allow to drain at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

Homemade Feta Cheese from Food52  Homemade Feta Cheese from Food52

Cut the cheese into 1 1/4-inch slices, and then cut again into cubes. Sprinkle with salt, making sure all the surfaces are covered. Loosely cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to age in the salt for 5 days in the refrigerator. The cheese can be covered with brine at this point for 21 to 30 days to further cure and add saltiness. If the finished cheese is too salty for your taste, set the cheese in nonchlorinated water for 1 hour, then drain before using.

Homemade Feta Cheese on Food52  Homemade Feta from Food52

See the full recipe (and save and print it here).

This recipe comes from Mary Karlin's book Mastering Fermentation (Ten Speed Press).
Orzo salad and baked feta photos by James Ransom. All other photos by Ed Anderson. 

Jump to Comments (8)

Tags: DIY, fermenting, cheese, feta, how-to & diy

Comments (8)

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about 1 year ago Mary Karlin

You are correct that in 'the old days' or 'old country',folks made cheese differently. They used raw milk, probably sheep or a combo of sheep and goat. Hence, no need for calcium chloride (to replace calcium lost in pasteurization), or lipase (to simulate the flavor of sheeps milk), or starter culture (to jump start the bacterial action when not using raw milk). Cheeses are still made simply in many parts of the world and in contemporary kitchens. This recipe (and others in my books) are for folks who want to make cheese in their contemporary kitchens, using readily-available milks. In these cases, additives are needed.

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about 1 year ago Diana Pappas

That's very interesting, thanks for clarifying!

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about 1 year ago Diana Pappas

I'm reading ingredient names like "lipase powder", "direct-set mesophilic starter", and "calcium chloride". This can't be how my ancestors made feta cheese back in Greece!

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about 1 year ago Mary Karlin

As noted by posters, maintaining 86 degrees can easily be accomplished by using a pot that will retain heat, or by wrapping the pot with a terry dishtowel. Always out of a draft. If you have a hood light, turn that on and place the covered pot under that light. That will keep the milk at the desired temperature.

Baci1

about 1 year ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

How would you maintain the temperature of 86F for an hour?

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about 1 year ago scottisloud

That's a fairly low temperature, and it is a fairly large volume of milk, so keeping your element on or neat "Low" depending on your stove should maintain that temperature. With such a large volume of milk wild temperature fluctuations of the entire put are highly unlikely.

In most cases you can likely just leave your stove OFF once you get to temperature and maybe turn it on for a minute or two here or there if needed since this is mesophilic bacteria. Mesophilic bacteria will work in a range of temperatures, become inactive (but alive) below about 77ºF, and dying above about 105ºF. This means that if your temperature drops a few degrees over the course of that hour, the world will not end.

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about 1 year ago DanEats

I've found that if you use a decent pot that retains heat, just keeping the lid on will keep the temperature fairly consistent. You can also wrap the pot in a blanket to help insulate it, or keep it in a warm oven. Filling a sink with hot water and placing the covered pot into the sink also can help.

Baci1

about 1 year ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

Thanks!