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Cheesemaking: feta

by on May 28, 2009
Cut feta curds healing in the whey

Cut feta curds healing in the whey

As mentioned last week, I have been trying my hand at cheese making. In retrospect, it is not all that difficult. To begin, you must start with good quality milk. We have had access to pasteurized milk for so long, and with it the lack of access to raw milk, that I always assumed that pasteurized milk is pasteurized milk is pasteurized milk; that it’s all the same.

It turns out that that the quality of the milk before pasteurization drastically affects the quality and shelf-life of milk after pasteurization. While pasteurization (or even ultra-high temperature pasteurization) kills any pathogenic bacteria that might have been in the milk from the animal or improper handling at the dairy, it can only do so much. Fresh milk has a plethora of active organisms (good and bad) and enzymes. Improperly handled or dirty milk is contaminated with even more organisms and extra enzymes. Some of the enzymes are destroyed by the pasteurization process, but some are not and continue to work on the milk. The extra enzymes from the poor quality milk continue to break down the milk, thus giving you odd and off flavors.

There are of course, enzymes that cheese makers intentionally add to milk. My first cheese attempt was feta, which typically has a pungent or piquant flavor. This is caused by the addition of lipase; an enzyme that breaks down the fat in the milk and produces that striking flavor.

If you want to see my detailed production notes, and will forgive the scribbles, they are in a PDF: Feta production notes

Curds knitting together

Curds knitting together

Overall, the taste was nice. It was a bit too salty, but if you ate the cheese with something (like tomato and cucumber salad with red onions) it was good. I was half expecting the lipase to produce a cheese with way too much pungency, but I was pleasantly surprised. Next time, I might try adding a tad more just to see how far I can boost the flavor.

Overall, I learned a couple of things. First, I cut the curd before it had cooled all of the way. The protein structure wasn’t completely formed when I put the blocks in the brine, thus I ended up with feta whose edges were a little soft. Second, I used a 20% brine. Next time I would start at a 15% brine to provide a more mellow saltiness.

If you are interested in making your own feta, Swede farm sells their fresh pasteurized goat milk at Bayou City Farmers Market on Saturdays and the Rice University Farmers market on Tuesdays. (If you want raw milk, you have to get it at the farm.) And if you are going to make your own, you can plan on getting 3/4lb of hard cheese or 1 1/2lbs of soft cheese from 1 gallon of milk.

Not interested in making your own feta? Lisa, over at Blue Heron Farms, is at the same farmers markets. She has excellent French feta (instead of being brined, it is dry salted and very creamy).

DSC01951

Feta blocks right out of the brine

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