This homemade feta cheese is just as tasty as its much pricier equivalent at the store. Unlike many other cheeses, feta is ready to eat just a couple of days after making it.
Note that the large amount of salt is for making a brine to cure the feta in and is not added directly to the cheese.
- 1 gallon whole milk (goat milk is best if you can get it)
- 1 packet Mesophilic starter culture*
- 1 1/2 teaspoons calcium chloride, divided*
- 1/2 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup water OR 1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet*
- 2 quarts plus 1/4 cup cool water, divided
- 1 to 1 1/4 pounds kosher or other non-iodized salt
- 2 3/4 teaspoons white or cider vinegar, divided
- Large stainless steel or other nonreactive pot
- Thermometer (cheese, candy, or digital meat thermometers all work here)
- Cheese knife or other long-bladed knife such as a bread knife
- Cheesecloth or butter muslin
- *You can get Mesophilic starter culture, rennet and calcium chloride from home cheese making suppliers online.
- Pour the milk into a large pot. Place the pot in a sink and fill the sink with hot water up to 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot. Alternatively, you can put the pot full of milk into an even larger pot of hot water. What you're after is a double-boiler effect of very gradually heating the milk - you don't want to put the pot of milk over direct heat.
- Heat the milk slowly to 86F (30C).
- Gently stir in the Mesophilic starter culture. Keep the mixture at 86F (30C) for 1 hour. I find it easiest to take the pot out of the surrounding hot water during this hour. It maintains its heat fairly well but tends to overheat if left in the hot water.
- Stir in 1/4 teaspoon calcium chloride.
- If using the rennet tablet, crush it and then dissolve it in 1/4 cup of cool water. Add to the milk. If using liquid rennet, add it directly to the milk. Gently stir for 1 minute.
- Leave the mixture alone for 1/2 hour, maintaining the 86F (30C) temperature as closely as possible. This may mean putting it back into the sink of hot water for a couple of minutes if it starts to cool off too much.
- The milk mixture will set up and look something like yogurt. Poke a clean finger about an inch deep into the curd (the semi-solid milk mixture) and gently pull your finger towards you. The curd is set when it forms a "clean break," separating around your finger. It will feel like firm yogurt.
- If the curd hasn't reached the clean break stage yet, wait another 1/2 hour.
- Cut the curd with a long-bladed knife. First cut from one side to the other, making slices that go all the way through the curd and are about an inch apart. Turn the pot a quarter turn around and repeat (the second round of slices will cross the first like a tic-tac-toe pattern).
- Cut the curd one last time coming in with the knife diagonally across the squares made by your previous slices, and at a 45 degree angle to the surface of the curd. This doesn't have to be exact. You want to end up with approximately 1-inch chunks of curd.
- Stir the chunks of curd very gently. Put the pot back into the sink or larger pot of hot water and gradually raise the temperature to 95F (35C). You want it to take about an hour. The curds will start to separate from the whey, which is the yellowish liquid you'll see.
- Line a colander with butter muslin or several layers of cheesecloth. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. Let them drain for 4 hours at room temperature.
- The curds will congeal together while they drain. Cut the mass that has formed into rough blocks about 3 inches wide and let them drain for another 1/2 hour.
- Make a saturated brine by dissolving 1 to 1 1/4 pounds of kosher or other non-iodized salt in 1/2 gallon of water. Add the salt a little at a time, and stop adding salt when it won't dissolve any further. Add 1 teaspoon of calcium chloride and 2 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar.
- Submerge the blocks of feta in the saturated brine for 10 to 12 hours. Note: do not leave them in longer than this. I did that the first time I made feta and the result was that the cheese got way too salty.
- Drain the feta. Leave it out uncovered at room temperature for 1 to 2 days. Transfer the feta to covered containers. Store in the refrigerator or a cool cellar or garage.
Eat within 1 to 2 weeks. For long term storage, make a lighter brine of 2 tablespoons non-iodized salt in 2 cups of water with 1/4 teaspoon vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon calcium chloride mixed in. Feta cheese will keep in this brine for several months.
Feta stored in brine may soften and start to fall apart. If you are planning to store the cheese in brine for a long time, leave it out to dry for the full 2 days after its saturated brine bath.
Feta is a great cheese for new cheesemakers to try because you'll know how it turned out in just a few days (instead of months, as with many other cheeses. Other quick homemade dairy products are yogurt, farmer's cheese, labneh and creme fraiche.