Feta cheese owes its name to the fact that it is cut into large triangular slices to fit in the barrels where it matures in feta production line. Athough, others claim that it is so called because we cut it and serve it in slices.
Feta is a white cheese made from goat’s and sheep’s milk, which matures in brine. It was finally approved as a PDO product only in 2002, after adventures and appeals mainly from Denmark and France. To be called a Feta PDO cheese, it must meet certain conditions in feta production line :
- To come exclusively from all of mainland Greece and, from islands, only from Lesvos.
- To be prepared only from Greek pasteurized goat’s and sheep’s milk, in a ratio of at least 70% sheep and goat up to 30%.
- Use milk only from Greek sheep breeds, which feed on the local flora of each area, mainly in free range. Produced from October to mid-June.
- Contains minimum fat 43% on dry and maximum moisture 55%.
- Mature for at least 2 months in wooden barrels or tin cans.
So what is not feta?
Those cheeses that are made like feta, but with other milks or proportions, or those that mature in a plastic container or in areas other than the PDO, are called white brine cheeses. The best known are goat cheese or goat “feta”, when it is made from goat’s milk at a rate of up to 100%, while the ceremony is also prepared like feta, but with cow’s milk.
How long does it takes for a good feta to mature?
According to the law, feta matures for at least two months, but good cheesemakers mature it for up to a year, since over time -especially barrel- it acquires its aromas and complex flavors. Maturation takes place in areas with a temperature not exceeding 2-4 ° C and humidity around 98%.
Soft or hard?
As the feta matures, it loses some of its moisture and hardens. The ideal drain is the cheesemaker’s secret for the perfect texture. The hard feta has a relatively salty, peppery, spicy taste, with strong aromas of grazing herbs. Feta is harder when it contains goat’s milk (within the legal limits), while slices of the fattest sheep’s milk are more buttery in texture and milder in taste.
How to make feta?
It’s time to make cheese with feta production line. Do you think it is difficult? No it is not! All you have to do is find fresh milk, a cooking waterproof thermometer and a rennet.
To make 0.5 kg of cheese, you need about 2.5 liters of milk. Sheep’s milk has more fat (where they are the ones that help in coagulation) so the cheese that will be produced will be more, while the goat’s milk produces less cheese but harder. Cow’s milk because it does not have a lot of fat, the cheese is soft but we can add cream to have more fat and thus have a harder cheese. For the preparation of feta the ratio is 70% sheep’s milk and 30% goat’s milk. But the process can be done with the milk of our choice.
First we strain the fresh milk so that it has no rubbish, hairs, etc. Then we boil it in a pot until it swells so that it pasteurizes. It is advisable for the temperature to reach at least 65 oC to be pasteurized. During cooking it needs frequent stirring because it will “burn” and the cheese will smell burnt. Allow it to cool until the temperature reaches about 35-40 oC. It is practically hot at this temperature but if we put our finger in it can withstand it.
It’s time to put the yeast in. Each rennet on the market has a different ratio, so depending on the rennet we have and the amount of milk we put the appropriate amount of rennet as indicated on the package. Mix well so that the yeast goes everywhere and leave it for 45-60 minutes until it thickens.
After step 2, with a strainer we take what has thickened and put it in a tulle (if we do not have we can use anything from a thin cloth, eg an old scarf after of course we have washed and disinfected it). Squeeze the cheese well to drain the liquids and hang the tulip somewhere for 15-30 minutes to drain even more. Basket-shaped strainers are commercially available. If we have one, we put the tulip there, we push the liquids to leave and we leave it for 15-30 minutes to drain. This is how it will take the shape of the basket.
Then, after it cools down, salt it with a small amount of salt and leave it for 5-7 days to drain well and harden. This should be done at a cool and stable temperature. If it is summer, put it in the fridge. Then put it in a tin, container or barrel and add brine until the cheese is covered. The brine is basically salt water and is usually made with 6-7% salt (in 100 ml of water we put 7 grams of coarse salt). We leave it this way to preserve it and the process of maturing the cheese takes about 3 months, but we can consume it earlier.
Tip: The liquid that will be left over after coagulation, which is almost transparent, is whey. Whey is nutritious, lean and very tasty. We do not throw it away but we keep it in the fridge and we use it as a broth to cook soups, pasta, rice, vegetables, legumes etc. in it. Of course from whey we can make cream cheese, mizithra and other soft cheeses.