Nothing compares to the fresh taste of homemade cheese. And tangy, rich feta is one of the easiest to make at home. It’s also an excellent “summer” cheese, the perfect partner to all those ripe tomatoes and gorgeous cucumbers.
Traditionally made with sheep’s milk, feta is equally delicious when made from store-bought cow’s milk. What gives it the distinctive sharp taste and crumbly texture is a week or more spent soaking, or aging, in a brine. Once you get your first taste of homemade feta, you’ll agree it was worth the wait. For complete how-tos, watch our step-by-step video, and follow the Homemade Feta recipe.
Safety first: How to sanitize your equipment
Cheesemaking relies on good bacteria (the kind found in yogurt) as a preservative. But there are other types of bacteria you need to watch out for, to avoid illness. Basic home sanitizing measures can eliminate much of the danger. Follow these steps:
Clean counters with antibacterial wipes and wash your hands thoroughly before beginning (and throughout the process, as necessary).
Sterilize all equipment, in one of three ways:
1. Wash in hot, soapy water, rinse, and then submerge in boiling water for at least 10 minutes.
2. Steam by putting an inch of water in the bottom of a large pot, adding the equipment, covering the pot tightly, and boiling for 10 minutes. (If the cover doesn’t fit, put aluminum foil over it to trap the steam.)
3. Use the sanitize setting on your dishwasher.
Do not use bleach in cleaning the equipment, as this can interfere with the chemistry of cheesemaking.
If at any point in the making or aging process you see small, uniform, round holes throughout the cheese, and it feels spongy, throw it out.
Details on food safety practices are available on the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Web site at www.cfsan.fda.gov.
Day 1: Make the cheese curd
To understand the science behind cheesemaking, it’s helpful to remember that it began as a way of preserving milk. You start by encouraging milk to curdle so that you can separate the solid portion (the curds) from the liquid (the whey). Rennet, a natural enzyme, is added to cause curdling. You also add live cultures, here in the form of yogurt—these “eat” the milk sugar (lactose) and produce an acid, which lowers the milk’s pH. That acidic environment, along with heat, helps the rennet curdle the milk.
Once the milk coagulates into curds, you cut into it to let the whey flow out. The remaining whey is drained off by hanging the curd in cheesecloth for 24 hours at room temperature. Once drained, the cheese will have reformed into a solid mass, ready to be cut into cubes and then sprinkled with salt to draw out any remaining whey.
Days 2-4: Salt the feta
Sterilize the equipment you’ll need for this day of work. Clean all counters with hot soapy water or an antibacterial wipe. Untie the cheesecloth and transfer the feta to a cutting board.
Cut the feta into 2- to 3-inch pieces.Sprinkle about 1/2 oz. salt over all sides of the cheese. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight. Repeat on days 3 and 4, turning the feta daily and resalting with 1/2 oz. salt. Each day, pour off the whey as it collects in the bottom of the container.
Day 5: Brine the feta
After three days, the cheese is put into a brine and aged for one to four weeks in the refrigerator. Although the cheese is ready to eat after one week, longer aging results in firmer, saltier, and more flavorful feta. When you make your own, you control the flavor and intensity of the tang, so you can make a feta that’s your idea of “just right.”
Three easy ideas for serving feta
•Top with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with olives and crusty bread (pictured).
• Drizzle with honey and cracked black peppercorns; serve with crackers.
• Dress with fresh herbs and lemon juice and bake at 375°F until golden on top; spread on crusty bread.