Feta… Fantastic or Fetid?

Feta Cheese

This is the kind of beautiful feta I aspire to! Photo credit: cheesemaking.com

For a while now we’ve been buying raw milk from a friendly local farmer. For those not aware of the distinction, raw milk is unpasteurised, unhomogonised, straight-from-the-cow milk. This is very much NOT what you’re buying at the supermarket. I don’t know quite what they’re doing to supermarket milk, but the proteins don’t react the same as the raw milk does. The closest you can get at the supermarket is the organic, unhomogonised one, but even that doesn’t quite act the same as raw milk. In theory, all they’re doing is pasteurising it (as do I with the raw milk to keep us safe from listeria and other unwanted bacteria), but a simple experiment – making yoghurt from it – reveals that whatever they’re doing is destroying the proteins much more than simply pasteurising it does. The results using a variety of supermarket milks varied from lumpy & thin to thick-ish & smooth-ish, but none came close to the gloriously thick, rich & smooth yoghurt that I can get out of the raw milk. Raw milk is just better, and if it makes superior yoghurt, it should also make superior cheese.

We get 5 litres of  lovely, creamy, nutritious straight-from-the-cow-deliciousness every 2 weeks, which at this stage isn’t really enough to satisfy Greg’s morning smoothie requirements and my yoghurt & cheesemaking desires, but it does keep things manageable. At moment, I’ve got dibs on the milk for my cheesemaking. There’s only a few different cheeses that I can make in an evening after work but I’m slowly getting more and more proficient. My mozzarella is coming along nicely, I’ve discovered the secret to smooth ricotta (rather than a lumpy more cottage-cheesey textured one) but the art of making fantastic feta is still eluding me.

So far my feta has been anything but fantastic. It has been:

  • Horribly salty & iodised – really bad mistake on my part there! The cheesemaking book I have specifically says NOT to use iodised salt, but in my excitement I forgot about that, and along with making a mathematical error that resulted in using 10 times the amount of salt I should have… well, needless to day it was pretty much inedible.
  • Fetid. We came home from a 9 day holiday to find half of that particular batch a funny pink colour… definitely must have cocked up the mold or brining container sterilisation procedure somewhere. The chooks enjoyed it though!
  • Sloppy. Every single batch so far has, after the proscribed 10 days “ripening” in brine, become more and more liquid. It goes into the brine looking like feta, and ends up like thickened cream. Really all it’s good for is making a feta-flavoured sauce for pasta dishes at that point. Tasty, but a bit of a waste.

I think I may have finally cracked the reason behind my self-liquidising-feta issue – too much brine around the cheese. I searched high and low for a container that would snugly fit around my feta mold to contain it while it was draining and brining, but alas, none could be found. I felt like Goldilocks – this one is too big; this one, too small! I needed to get a few more molds anyway, as the current one only holds about a third of my curd and I was making shift with muslin and sieve for the rest of it (which to be fair was probably a contributor towards my pink-&-fetid-feta). Imagine my joy when I found some feta molds that come with some handy-dandy snappy lid containers for brining and storing the cheese! I quickly ordered 3 and, joy of joys, their arrival on my doorstep coincided with Milk Day. Time for fantastic-feta attempt number 4!

My latest batch of 3 cheeses are currently nestled in their molds in the fridge, hopefully ripening without too much brine making them soggy, and without any of my own personal bacteria turning them funky colours. Fingers crossed, anyway.

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