Feta cheese is a popular and easy cheese to make for the beginner. But, as with every cheese, there are some “tricks” to making feta to your liking. The traditional Greek feta is made from sheep milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk, but here in South Africa, the cheese is mostly made from cow’s milk. The cheese originates from the hot countries of the Middle East.
It is an ancient cheese dating back to 8 BC and, as you can imagine, there were no fridges or cellars at the time. Therefore the best way to store the cheese was to put it in a brine and bury it in the sand. Hence, we call it a brined cheese. It is traditionally a crumbly cheese used for salads and the delicious phyllo pastry spanakopita with its filling of spinach and feta. To make Feta is a very simple process. Simply add culture and some rennet – no pressing required. Let it drain for a few days and then place it in the brine where it can keep for up to a year.
So what are the tricks?
The making of all cheese is dependent on bacterial activity. The lactic bacteria consume the sugar (lactose) in the milk and produce lactic acid. This is especially important in feta as it is quite an acidic cheese. A mistake often made with feta is that the cheese is placed in the brine before it has reached the correct acidity of pH 4.6.
The pH can easily be measured with one of our pH sticks. Especially in winter, the bacteria are a little slower at producing the acid and cheese makers tend to place the cheese in the brine too early on before the correct pH has been reached. This can cause the cheese to melt in the brine. The trick is to simply leave the feta to drain and dry for a day or two longer before brining it.
Another reason the feta melts in the brine is that the pH of the brine is too high (alkaline). The ph of the brine must be lower than the pH of the cheese. Furthermore, if Calcium Chloride is not added to the brine, the calcium leaks out of the cheese into the brine and you get melted feta.
The soft Danish Feta is popular today and many Finest Kind clients ask us for the recipe. But in fact, Danish Feta is not made in the traditional way but by means of super expensive reverse osmosis machines. The milk is forced through a membrane resulting in a sludge to which cultures are added. The trick to making softer feta the traditional way is to simply cut the curd a little bigger and let the curd drain for a shorter time but still making sure to reach a pH of 4,6 before brining it. The smaller the curd is cut and the longer it is drained, the drier the feta.
There are a lot of losses associated with the making of feta in the factories. The curds are poured into cylindrical tubes to drain and of course, a lot of the curds fall outside the tubes. Once drained the feta is cut and again, due to the feta being crumbly, there are crumbs that break off. These expensive ongoing losses can be avoided by using the Finest Kind H932 moulds. The curd is placed in the mould and forms a solid little cheese which is then placed in the brine. No losses. Furthermore, the cheese is able to ripen in the brine as it is whole and has a much better flavour as a result. The whole cheese fits exactly into the 250gram ring lock tub for resale.
Adding interesting herbs can make all the difference when marketing the cheese. Try some of Finest Kind’s original herbs and herb mixtures such as the greek mix or the bruschetta.
Once you have made the first batch of feta and eaten it or sold it, there is no need to make a new batch of brine. An old brine is the best brine. It will need to be strained through cheesecloth and some additional salt added from time to time. Measure the salt of the brine using the brine meter and add a little salt until it reads 10%. Bear in mind that the softer and wetter the feta, the more salt it will absorb. Its best then to make a weaker brine of perhaps 7%.
For further information on how to make your Feta taste as delicious as it should, do not hesitate to contact Finest Kind with any queries.