We’re lucky enough to have a milking goat on our property – a splendid toggenburg called Gerty and her daughter Jilly Love Face (who we don’t milk). You can read about our urban goat system over here. When you have milking animals, thoughts rapidly move to….what do I do with all this milk. For us (and most others) the answer is cheese.
I’ve (Anton) only been seriously making cheese for around 6 months and finally feel comfortable about sharing our approach to making feta – watch this space for other cheese recipes in coming months. We use raw goats milk as we believe it’s healthier and definitely tastier than anything the shop can provide. Gerty currently milks around 2 litres per day. So over a week we drink/make yoghurt on around 5 litres and the remainder we transform into cheeses. Currently we alternate between making a batch of feta one week and then a batch of a harder storing cheeses the next week.
Here’s how I make feta…
Clean the kitchen and get materials together
We try and clean the kitchen before starting. This gives you access to surfaces to put stuff on, as well as reducing the chance of contamination. The key utensils I use are a saucepan, large spoon, thermometers, measuring spoons, muslin/mesh, kettle. I also use milk, rennet, culture, and acid sanitiser.
Clean the pot
We clean all the materials that will be touching the milk and cheese. We use both boiling water and/or acid sanitiser. The acid sanitiser is pretty handy because you don’t need to re-boil the kettle all the time. It effectively kills the bugs from 2 minutes of contact. I generally mix up around 1 litre of sanitiser (uses around 1 ml of the acid solution) and it is enough for the days cheesemaking action. I get mine from the local homebrew store.
Measure the milk
Its good to know how many litres of milk you are using, as this effects how much culture to add as well as how much coagulant you use. This batch uses 11 x 750ml bottles of milk – around 8 litres. From this 8 Litres of milk I get around 1.4 kg of Feta. If I was making harder, pressed cheese the yield would be lower, between 800g-1kg of cheese from this much milk.
Add the culture
Cultures are used to “ripen the milk”. Effectively it acidifies the milk and makes it ready for the effect of the coagulants. I have experimented using natural aging and pre-packaged cultures. As a beginner cheesemakers we have had more success with the prepacked cultures but look forward to learning more about using natural cultures. That said, we use raw milk and there is undoubtedly a lot of extra microbial action occurring, which helps on improving flavour and aging.
In this case we are adding two “dashes” of “Flora Danica” culture. We stir it in the milk with a clean spoon.
Yes we have funny little spoons with words like “dash” and “pinch” written on them. Handy when you are using measurements like 1/8 of a teaspoon.
Warm the milk
The milk is heated up to around 32 degrees C. To do this, I put the saucepan in the sink and add very hot tap water to the sink (around 60 degrees C). Over the next twenty minutes this tends to bring the milk up to around 32 degrees and reduce the temperature of the sink water as well.
Use any pot you have, it doesn’t have to be a particular type of pot.
I keep the milk in the sink at 32 degrees for 30-60 minutes. I add or remove hot water to the sink to keep the temperature moderated. It helps to have two good thermometers. I have one in the milk and one in the sink. I can monitor the temperature difference and add the right amount of hot water.
Add the coagulant
I use calf rennet, mainly because we were given a jar of rennet to use (waste not want not). Maybe in the future we will try some vegetarian DIY coagulants such as thistle or fig. I carefully measure the rennet using a little 1 ml syringe and some cooled boiled water (to remove chlorine). For the 8l of milk we use 1 ml of rennet.
The rennet/water mix is added to the milk. I gently add the rennet and stir with a “gentle up and down motion”. This is so the milk and rennet gets mixed, but does not maintain momentum. This will stop the curd tearing as it forms.
After around thirty minutes the milk starts to coagulate. This is the classic “curds and whey”. At a point where the curd cleaves in a sharp line is called “clean break”. How long it takes to achieve the clean break will depend on how acidic the milk has turned and how much and fresh the rennet is.
Cut the Curd
The curd is cut into as even sized cubes as possible (around 1.5cm cubes). This is done by cutting into strips, then columns. Finally the knife is turned diagonally to cut sideways. The curds are very delicate at this stage so take it slowly and gently.
The curds are left to rest for around 10 minutes. As this happens whey drains away from the curd and the curd shrinks a little.
The curds are gently stirred for around 15 minutes and rested for another 5 minutes. Any curds that are not “cube” shape can be broken with the edge of the spoon. I am trying to make the curds a fairly even size. As I stir the curd it will shrink to around half of its original size. Many hard cheeses use a similar process up to this point, however the curd is slowly heated and stirred for some time (maybe another blog)
Pour the curds and whey through a muslin mesh or a cheese cloth. I use “grain bags” that are also used for homebrewing. They have a tight effective weave, perfect for this job.
The curds are hung to strain for 6-10 hours. If I am making the cheese at night I leave it overnight, and during the day I drain until just before bed.
The cheese is now cut into strips around 1 inch thick and placed in a saturated brine.
The Curd strips and then placed in a saturated brine. A saturated brine has all the salt it can absorb in suspension. I salt the cheese for around 4-6 hours, any exposed pieces are sprinkled with course salt.
The cheese is then transferred to a container with around 40% brine and 60% whey. The container is stored in the fridge and pieces are removed as desired for eating – yum! The cheese can be stored in the fridge in brine for months, although each batch lasts us around 2 weeks
The texture of the end feta is influenced by many of the steps taken along the way. For a smoother “Danish style” feta, I stir the curd less, drain for shorter periods and salt with a less salty brine.
Want to know more?
- We have been reading Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianclis Caldwell, Chelsea Green Publishing (Thanks to our mate Sam Cramer for the lend).
- We’re looking forward to reading “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking by David Asher!
- We have purchased materials and cultures from Teros.eco in Hobart and cheesemaking.com.au