I’m the kind of home cook who rarely addresses recipes and when I do, I tend to ignore a good amount of the ingredients and directions in favor of my own experimentations. My trained-chef mom likes to say that you should always make the recipe as it is printed first, but it’s from her that I learned to go buck wild in the kitchen, so really it’s all her fault. Once I mastered the feta-making at The Institute of Domestic Technology, I immediately came home and started throwing whatever herbs I had on-hand into the jars and was pleasantly surprised that it worked!
Some of my favorite herb infusions include dill and rosemary and garlic, but for this batch, I went with Tarragon…because I had recently made my mom’s rice-paper wrapped tarragon salmon and had some left over. In order to make feta, you do need a few things that require tracking down – cultures and rennet. You can find these things online at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company or Cultures for Health, but it helps to buy in bulk since expedited shipping is expensive and necessary since these things belong in a fridge or freezer. If you are in Los Angeles, you can also head up to the Home Wine, Beer and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills.
You will also need a kitchen thermometer and either cheese cloth or cheese molds (which can also be purchased online). I like to use raw goat’s milk when I can, but pasteurized milk (goat or cow) will work too. I used Claravale Farm’s raw cow’s milk for this recipe, which can be purchased down the street from me in Echo Park at Cookbook, a little organic grocer.
For cultures, I used Flora Danica Mesophilic Starter Culture, which is great with goat cheeses, but a general Mesophilic Direct Set Starter Culture will do the trick and there are Feta starter cultures as well. I like the buttery texture of Flora Danica and use it for several different cheeses though, so it’s what I keep on-hand. I use animal rennet in my cheese-making, because while there are vegetarian options available, animal rennet tends to fair better with aged cheeses, while the vegetable rennet can cause a bitter taste after six months of aging.
Herb-infused Feta (makes 3 small jars)
1 gallon of milk – raw goat is preferable, but as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized, it will work
3 drops rennet, diluted in about 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water
1/12 teaspoon Mesophilic culture
1/2 cup salt for brine + more for sprinkling on cheese
1/2 gallon water for brine
Herbs or spices of choice – garlic, rosemary, thyme, dill and tarragon are all lovely
Slowly heat 1 gallon of milk to 74 degrees fahrenheit in a non-reactive (preferably stainless steel) pot. Take off the heat and add 1/12 teaspoon of Mesophilic culture and stir gently. Wait 10 minutes and add the diluted rennet. Stir gently.
Cover the pot and leave at room temperature for 12 hours. After 12 hours, the milk will have separated into curds and whey. Ladle the curds into cheesecloth or molds and let drain for 12 hours.
If using cheesecloth, tie the ends into a knot and you can hang it on a cupboard knob or your kitchen faucet. If you want to keep the whey (which you really should), put a container under the draining cheesecloth or molds. I like to use molds, set over a strainer, set over a pot.
After 12 hours, flip each cheese in their molds or turn-over your cheese in the cheesecloth for another 12 hours. Did I mention that cheesemaking is mostly waiting? I probably should have.
After 24 hours of draining, the curds should have dispelled much of the whey. If you’re wondering what to do with the whey, I like to put it into protein drinks instead of protein powder (it adds a yogurt-like tanginess) or I make wild yeast bread, using whey instead of water for added nutrition. If you have dogs or chickens, they also go crazy for the stuff. After you take the cheese out of the molds or cheesecloth, cut them into 1 inch cubes and salt all surfaces lightly. I usually salt the whole mold because I know they’re going to get plenty of salt while brining, but this also gives you a softer cheese, which should probably be in it’s own category.
This cheese will have to stay out on a drying mat for about 3 days to dry. I like to use a bamboo sushi-rolling mat, on top of a rounded plate. The cheese will dispel a little more whey at this point, so make sure there’s room below. When the edges start to yellow, they are ready.
For the brine, bring 1/2 gallon of water to a boil and add 1/2 cup of salt. Stir until dissolved and cool the brine to below room temperature. Meanwhile, boil your jars in enough water to cover them for 5 minutes and let them air dry. If you didn’t cut your feta before, now you can cut them into 1-inch squares or slices.
When your brine is cooled, fill each jar with your herbs of choice and your feta squares and add enough brine to fully cover the cheese. Put caps and labels on each jar and store them in the refrigerator. As the feta brines, it will take on the flavors of the herbs. The cheese will be ready to eat in about 2 weeks, but can be stored unopened in the fridge for up to a year. The longer you wait to eat it, the stronger it will be.