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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.