Monday, October 29, 2012

Cheesepalooza: Feta

Feta, feta, bo-beta.. banana fana pho feta.. fe fi fo... FETA. Yep, that was dorky. I couldn't resist. Or, more so, I couldn't get it out of my head... I'm sorry.

When our October challenge was issued, I had trouble deciding whether I would make the feta or the halloumi. Time was quite limited in October, so I knew that I wouldn't be able to make both in this month, though I had every intention of making the other cheese at some point down the line. 

I ended up choosing the feta. I had been having so much success and enjoying the low-and-slow goat cheeses and, thus, wanted to continue on with that roll. Plus, feta is one of those cheeses that I would buy but never considered making (obviously, until this challenge was issued). The aggressive salt, interesting texture, and sharp brine... it just seemed like too much to mess with at home. And, just like the chevre and cabecou and many other cheeses that I have been enjoying making, it really wasn't worth stressing over. I could manage it.

This cheese definitely required more bits and pieces than previous cheeses... rennet, lipase, Aroma B mesophilic starter, and calcium chloride. Mise en place! Mise en place! (Funny is that my mise en place was incorrect! hahah. As I started, I realized that I got a bit carried away with my diluting and incorrectly diluted my Aroma B starter. I dumped it and portioned out the starter again... but neglected to take that photo. Oh well, my cheese-honesty is better anyway.)

Two new ingredients are introduced in this recipe... lipase and calcium chloride. Lipase is an enzyme in milk that is destroyed during pasteurization. This enzyme adds stronger flavour and tang to your milk, as well as a stronger aroma. Cheesemakers can buy mild or sharp lipase powder to add more flavour to their cheese. Calcium chloride is another level of cheesemaking "trickery" that tries to help our pasteurized milk get back to that delightful raw milk state. The calcium chloride is added to increase or restore the calcium levels in your milk, which will result in a firmer curd. 

So, you mix your milk and lipase, then heat. Rest. Hydrate your starter, maintain heat, rest. Add calcium chloride, add rennet, rest. Sparing you from anymore milk in a pot photos... I'm fast-forwarding through that. 

I checked my pot after the hour of rest, following the addition of the rennet, and had a beautiful mass of almost-cheese! And a clean break!

Time to cut the curds, maintain temperature, some gentle stirring, some optional heating, then a few more minutes of rest. 

Transfer the curds to cheesecloth and allow to drain for two hours. 

After this point, I transferred my curds to -of all things- a rubbermaid vegetable storage container. They are decently sized square containers that have a small removable rack that fits snugly at the bottom... a great impromptu mould and draining tray, in my opinion! 

The cheese was flipped a few times and continued to drain overnight. 

I cut the cheese into 1" cubes, salted, then transferred to the fridge to continue to drain, salt cure, and age. Over the next five days, I would check the cheese daily and drain any whey... though I really don't feel like it drained much at all. Maybe a few tablespoons altogether? 

At this point, we enjoyed the young unbrined goat feta at our Thanksgiving tasting. I wanted to get a sense of the cheese at this stage. 

T A S T I N G   N O T E S
  • Appearance - White and mostly smooth. A few cracks or holes in surface. 
  • Nose (Aroma) - Subtle.
  • Overall Taste - Light but defined taste. 
  • Sweet to Salty - Despite the salt cure, it was not overly salty.
  • Mild to Robust - Mild for a goat's cheese.
  • Mouth Feel - Creamy with firmness. Dense but not hard. 

Following the young goat feta tasting, I made the brine for the remaining feta cubes. I made a light brine using approximately 45g of salt to 500 mL of unchlorinated water, which was enough to cover my feta in a 1L weck jar. After reading Valerie's devastation after her successful feta went mushy in the brine, I made certain to use unchlorinated water for the brine, in case that was the reason for the transformation. 

We tasted the feta again after 25+ days in the brine. 

T A S T I N G   N O T E S
  • Appearance - White and mostly smooth. A few cracks or holes in surface. 
  • Nose (Aroma) - Salty... likely from the brine, almost like smelling the sea. 
  • Overall Taste - Salty, creamy but firm. 
  • Sweet to Salty - Salty.
  • Mild to Robust - Medium. While the cheese is still relatively mild, there is a definite tang and the brine adds a strong salty flavour. 
  • Mouth Feel - Creamy with firmness. Dense but not hard. 
A few thoughts:
I read an interesting post on Curd Nerd about Salty Feta... in case the salt is a bit overwhelming for you.  
- Given the salt level, this cheese would hold up well in a greek salad or in other traditional applications. Unlike some of the other cheeses, I probably couldn't manage more than a cube or two on its own... mostly due to the salt. This isn't a criticism! Just a comment about the best use. :)
- Learn from the successes, challenges, trials, and tribulations of others... case and point, Valerie's brine helped me to ensure that I didn't use regular tap water. I hope that my trials help others to succeed.
- My feta had a very slight mushy edge after a few days in the brine. I checked my notes and realized that my calculations were slightly off and I had used too little salt in the brine. I dumped it, made a correctly salted brine, then added it back to the feta. It worked! The feta lost that mushy edge. I'm not sure if the combination of the water itself and the salt level is the reason for any mushy feta but I'll take the win. The 45g was the correct amount of salt for my 500mL of unchlorinated water.
- [UPDATE] Another great article and tips from the Curd Nerd on your feta melting in the brine. Read it here.

7 thought(s):

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see that your feta turned out. Some are having issues with mushy feta when left for 21 days in the brine.

Well done post

wannafoodie said...

Thanks, Ian! I just realized that my last comment or thought didn't turn up... (adding now) but there was a bit of mushiness after a few days in the brine. I dumped it out and recalculated my salt saturation ratio, made the brine again (realizing my ratio was slightly too little salt for water), then added it. It firmed up! Could an incorrect salt ratio in the brine be another factor in the mush?

Stephanie said...

I'm going to brine my feta today and am worried about mushy feta! I have the proper water on hand but I'm also considering making the brine a bit acidic after reading up about it on the internet.. maybe adding a bit of vinegar. Congrats on your lovely feta!

A Canadian Foodie said...

I also found all the versions to be just too salty, so really appreciate your links as I haven't taken the t ime to researching that yet! ooooo I crave a cheese making day! You work days, right? I am in Cakgary Nov 7 for a meeting and could make cheese with you the day after - but it is a Thursday. Can't wait for a cheese making day in yeg!

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

Great job! Ah loved making this cheese, your cut curd is beautiful. Yep the young feta is nice to enjoy, hard to wait. As far as the cheese going soft it is not the salt but the calcium level, so add a bit of calcium chloride to the brine ;-)

Simona Carini said...

Nice set of photos! I admire you for being so methodical about taking them. When I make cheese, I tend to forget everything else, camera included.

wannafoodie said...

Thanks for the comments! I've definitely incorporated a bit of calcium chloride in my brines moving forward. So much to learn in this cheesemaking world.

I too forget to take photos... or, even more ridiculous, end up with several "curds draining" photos such that I can't even remember which curd will become which cheese. Cheese-blogging hazards, I guess!

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