Feta Accompli

Feta is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home. It uses a low-maintenance culture, stays at one temperature, and ferments in brine in the fridge where most adverse beasts cannot thrive. As I ease in to the practice of regular cheese making, feta is already a fixture in the rotation.

Here’s what you do: take a gallon or two of local raw milk (cow or goat; I used cow) and bring it to 86˚ F. Add your mesophilic culture (I used some cubes of frozen cultured goat milk from the last time I made it, which is the best way to keep the culture going and not have to continue buying it) and let the milk ripen at the same temperature for an hour. At this point, take out a ladle full and fill a few cells in an ice tray and freeze it. Those cubes will be your starter for the next batch. Next, add a bit of rennet diluted in about ten times its volume of water. Stir gently for a minute or so. Let sit for another hour or less at the same temp until you get a “clean break” which is to say the curd has visibly pulled away from the sides of the pot. Cut the curd into 1/2″ cubes and stir gently every couple of minutes for 15-20 more. I jiggled the pot so you can see what I’m talking about with the cutting. After you cut the x and y axes, you have to angle the knife and try your best to cut z as well since the curd is likely thicker than half an inch.

Ladle the cubes into cheese cloth in a colander over a bowl. Hang the cloth overnight over a bowl. (Edit: flip the lump over after 6 or so hours to make a rounder ball. Thanks, El). Incidentally, it was harder to get a picture just as a drip was falling from the bundle than it was to do any other step of this process.

Save the whey for ricotta, baking, braising meat, ranch dressing, and approximately one million other culinary uses. Cut the curd into 1″ cubes and immerse in a 3% brine with any flavorings you might like (I used rosemary). Put in the fridge for 4-6 weeks, though you can eat it in a week if you have instant gratification issues. It gets funkier and better over time; I love it particularly because the culture in the cheese is doing one thing and then the lacto-fermentation in the brine pickles it at the same time. It’s a symphony of microbial metabolic splendor.

A digital thermometer is very useful, as is a scale. Seriously, buy a $20 digital scale. Baking bread is even easier than this. Rennet and the culture are both required, and can be easily ordered online. And after the month or more during which you’ve patiently waited for your milk to slowly spoil in just the right way, you can dig the crumbly, funky cubes from the brine and smash them on homemade pita bread and wonder why the hell we even have supermarkets anyway.

28 comments to Feta Accompli

  • Love this. I still haven’t dived into cheese making and after reading your post, I have no idea why. Thanks for another brilliant piece.

  • El

    Feta’s the second reason one should have a goat, methinks. My one and only tip is to rotate the hanging curds to avoid unseemly cheesy stalagmites.

    I also put up tinily-cubed feta in jars in peppery/rosemary/basil-y olive oil. Lasts a good 3-6 months depending on how warm it is in your house. They’re fun gifts because they’re both pretty and useful.

  • Yes! I’ve done this! Only the I discovered blue cheese, and never bought or made feta again.

  • Peter

    Diana: Give it a shot. You’ll be happy.

    El: Right you are. I forgot. Edited.

    Sofya: My only worry with blues is that that mold will infest the wine fridge where I age cheeses and then my non-blues will all turn blue. I guess I need another wine fridge. Sigh.

  • Mo

    So what does the brine consist of? I’ve only made ricotta, which was insanely easy. I would love to have a batch of feta getting nice and tasty in the back of my fridge! I really, really want to get into cheese, I just need to get a fridge set up, I think my husband stole the little fridge I was thinking of using and is turning it into a keg chiller for his homebrew. That’s fine with me, but now I need another frige!

  • Jessica Still

    Your expertise & sense of ease are a delightful & empowering combination! Each of your photographs here inspires an internal experiential caption: round, full, perfect, replete, succulent, pending, cool, tangy …

    Our local Sustainability Center offers fresh goat’s milk, cheese & yoghurt. One goat keeper describes how her goats love to eat flowers – especially Lilacs & Roses. I can almost imagine your savoring approach to the taste-bouquet that brings to a goats’ milk tasting …

    We will have to find a way to make you an honorary member of the Sustainability Center. You are in the Hudson Valley in New York & we are the valley in Sun Valley, Idaho. :-)

  • Very cool, Peter, very cool.

  • You’ve broken the cool-meter.

  • Meredith

    Awesome. Cheese-making is on my list of skills to acquire soon. Raw milk is a bit of a pain to acquire around here, but I’m working on that, and do have a slightly inconvenient source. :)
    Your comment raised a question, however. In the article, you say to put it in the fridge, but in the comments, you mention the wine fridge. Is that just so you won’t be tempted every day to break into it? Or do you have the wine fridge set at a different temp than the regular fridge?

  • Peter

    Mo: The brine is just salt and water, plus whatever flavorings you want to add. Keep it simple: rosemary and maybe some peppercorns. 3% is 30 grams of salt per liter of water.

    Jessica: I made lilac ice cream a couple springs ago, and have big plans for the roses this summer.

    Zoomie & Nicole: We should replace it with one that goes to eleven.

    Meredith: The feta goes in the regular fridge. Other cheeses that aren’t brined like it a bit warmer, so a wine fridge is excellent for them. Basement temp, around 55˚, is what they tend to enjoy. Feta could certainly ferment in a wine fridge or basement and be happy there. If I had a basement, this would all be moot.

  • Annabel (Mrs Redboots)

    Unfortunately you can no longer buy raw milk in this country, or I’d give it a go!

  • Peter

    Try it with good local milk; it will still work.

  • Why cut it into 1″ cubes for storage? Couldn’t you just store a big hunk in the brine?

  • ..and Annabel, you can get raw milk if you know where to look. Befriend someone in your local CSA or attachment parenting community and you should be able to get some.

    Some stores sell it under the protective labeling of “animal feed.” Though it is actually safe for human consumption, they sometimes label it as animal feed to foil the FDA/USDA.

  • Peter

    I cut it up so that the ratio of surface area to volume allows for quicker fermentation and so I can stick it into various containers. Space permitting, there’s no reason you couldn’t store it in big hunks.

  • Ha! I laughed out loud about the drop of whey. Ths is a brilliant post, even better than its title. Thank you!

  • Anyhow, I thought I would add how I was shown a bunch of extra steps to get there (note: I prefer your method – less work, looks amazing!!!!!!!!!). The woman taught me how to turn the curd in the pot after Xs and Ys and Zs with a round-tipped knife to get the cheese release even more whey. Then we did the drain part. Then we sliced the resulting ball and layered each slab/slice onto a cheese mat and salted both sides (lightly) with kosher salt and let drip out for like a day, and then more for another day (in the fridge). Feta was done in about 5 days (I think…), when it developed sort of an aged, feta-y flavor. It was good but I like your method better.

  • Peter – re blue cheese, absolutely, that is the reason I never dared making blue myself (said woman in cheese class also told me that the mold will infest my kitchen and all of my further cheese projects would be doomed). I meant that I buy my blue. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.

  • Sorry about all the comments – cheese sort of makes me that way – in that cheese class, woman also showed us how you can use buttermilk (maybe like a 1/2 to half a gallon? don’t remember) as culture for feta, only that turns out way softer than with the starter. I prefer using the actual starter myself which I once impulsively bought in a large quantity, mostly with the goal of making cream cheese. Pictures of my feta journey are here (no recipe, cause class teacher didn’t want me to share those on my blog):

    http://girlsguidetobutter.com/2010/04/alice-in-dairyland/

  • Peter

    Sarah: Thank you for reading and commenting.

    Sofya: It’s good to be passionate. I think that early salting is unnecessary since the cheese spends so much time in brine. It helps it shed some water, but i find that hanging overnight gets it plenty firm. I look forward to reading about your future experiments.

  • This was a fun post to read, I have been learning cheesemaking over the past year and so far have made feta, chevre, lemon cheese and ricotta. Would dearly like to move into hard cheeses at some point but I want to wait until I get a quality press and aging fridge set up.
    I get my milk from a local goat farmer, it took some doing to find her… however you can take a shortcut to find milk– ask your local vet if you are friendly with one. After I found my milk source, I mentioned it to the vet, and he told me about all the people keeping goats around there… also see realmilk.com for quick searching.

  • Peter

    OCG: I made cheddar last year with friends using a can of tomatoes and a couple of rocks as a weight and the texture was excellent. You might want to try it without a press. Good tips about the milk.

  • I’m working up the courage to try this–I use feta all the time for our favorite chickpea salad, and good feta makes all the difference.

  • Peter

    There’s no courage required; try it once and you’ll wonder what you were afraid of.

  • [...] confusion. But I want to make clear at the outset that making this sort of cheese is every bit as easy as making feta. The only significant difference is that it needs to be aged at wine fridge temperatures rather [...]

  • Nic

    Hi Peter,

    your Feta looks awesome! I tried to make some last week and had a major disaster – it dissolved in the brine! The book warned that goats milk would do this but I used cows milk. Any ideas where I went wrong? It hung for 4 hours, should it be hung for longer? Or maybe not enough rennet? I’m new to cheese and have no idea! Any ideas would be gratefully appreciated,

    Thanks

    Nic

    p.s. Congratualtions on the Charcutepalooza win!

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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