A few days ago, I had a friend offer to commission me to make a holiday cheese she could bring to back to her homeland. This inspired me. Forget about being commissioned, I would give everyone a piece of one of my favorite past times for the holidays: cheese making!
I had this realization only a couple of days ago, so hard cheese was out of the picture. I would need up to two months for that project.
Hmm….cheese as a gift…..I brainstormed.
Cheese as a gift should be something with a long shelf-life. I counted on my fingers what needed to happen: something semi-firm, something salted, and something cured. What better option than a local cow milk feta?!
Yes, I am aware of the fact that feta cheese is usually made with sheep and goat milk. But, really, the cost of local goat milk when bought at the store is outlandishly more expensive than some of the highest quality local cow milk. And, I thought, this would pose a newly desired challenge: How to make rich Battenkill Valley Cow Milk into something firm with a creamy body?
I gathered three recipes and sat at the kitchen table. During my research, I compared starter culture content for buttermilk, fresh starter, and mesophilic (MM100). My findings are below:
Fresh Starter Packet
CULTURE INCLUDES: Lactose, (LL) lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, (LLC) lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, (LLD) lactococcus lactis subsp. biovar diacetylactis, (LMC) leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
CULTURE INCLUDES: lactose, (LL) lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, (LLC) lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, (LLD) lactococcus lactis subsp. biovar diacetylactis, (LMC) leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris.
CULTURE CONTAINS: Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis biovar diacetylactis
As you may have noticed, Buttermilk and Fresh Starter are exactly the same! And Mesophilic is 3 of the 5 cultures in buttermilk. The other 2 cultures are Thermophilic bacteria, which only become active at higher temperatures ( about 104 to 128), so it really makes no difference in the circumstance of feta, where the temperature does not get above 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
I picked up some Maplehofe buttermilk from Pennsylvania at my latest jaunt to The Brooklyn Kitchen. The Brooklyn Kitchen is a great source for urban cheese products. Hopefully, we can spread the word of cheese in more diverse markets around Brooklyn so cheese making can become a more accessible, daily practice for different communities.
Holiday Cow Feta Recipe, Brooklyn Style
1.5 gallons whole cow milk, preferably Battenkill Valley Creamery
1/8 teaspoon double strength rennet, diluted in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water. You can increase the amount of rennet used by 1/8 teaspoon if you’d like a firmer curd. But don’t go overboard: the curd will be too chewy.
1/2 cup buttermilk
24 oz Kosher Salt (NO IODINE! This halts positive fermentation!)
1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride for brine, found at The Brooklyn Kitchen or New England Cheese Making Supply
Heat the milk to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the buttermilk. Let sit for 60 minutes.
Add rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water. Stir for 1 minute, using both circular, and up and down motions.
Let the curd set until it is pulling away from the sides and has a layer of clear whey resting on the top. The final test is the “clean break.” This means placing your finger in the curd and lifting it out until it forms a clean break. This will take up to three hours depending on the rennet strength and the milk quality.
Now, you are ready to cut the curd! Use a long, thin, sharp knife and cut the curd into 1/2 inch cubes over 5 minutes. In order to cut the curd both horizontally and vertically, place the spoon gently underneath and lift the strips of curd up to cut horizontally. Slowly and gently stir the curd pieces for 20 minutes so they contract slightly. The longer you stir at this point, the firmer the final cheese will be. Allow the cheese to settle at the bottom of the pot for 10 minutes.
Sanitize the molds by dipping them in boiling water. I rigged up this draining system on my sink. I grabbed an oven rack, scrubbed it with soap and hot water until the grease was removed, and placed these little molds that are used for making fresh chevre discs. You can also use a ricotta basket as well!
Allow the curd to drain over night. After the curd has been draining for the first two hours, flip it once and place it back in the mold so it is smoothly formed on both sides. If your kitchen is cooler than 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the draining process could take closer to 24 hours instead of 12 hours.
If you are using a ricotta basket, it is time to cut the firmer, drained curd into 1 pound pieces. My curd was actually delicate and already in small molds, so I actually flipped it onto the rack and dry salted all the sides, allowing it to drain for another 6 to 12 hours. The curd needs to be a little firmer for the brining process. You can do this as well with your larger ricotta basket cheese if necessary.
Now, prepare a saturated brine: 1.25 pounds salt to 1/4 gallon water (aka 1 quart). Then add another 1/4 gallon water on top of the mixture. There should be a layer of salt at the bottom. I added 1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride to the brine mixture to make sure that the brine didn’t pull any calcium out of my cheese. Place the drained curds in the brine for 8 hours.
Remove cheese from brine and lay on a cheese mat, or a rack lined with cheese cloth to air cure for 3 days. Lay a piece of sanitized cheese cloth over the top of the cheeses as well to prevent contamination. The cheese will be at its most delicate stage at this process, so handle them carefully. They have essentially absorbed the salt water and need the chance to dry off and firm up. Flip the little guys as frequently as possible. This brine treatment will stabilize the feta.
At this point of the game, I went straight to marinating the cheese in order to give the extra virgin olive oil a chance to create a more velvety final texture of the cheese that will be infused with garlic, rosemary, thyme, peppercorns, and organic lemon rind. Make sure the cheese is fully submerged in evoo in order to prevent spoilage. This is my favorite way to preserve and simultaneously ripen the cheese. Allow the cheese to ripen in this mixture for 12 to 24 hours before refrigeration. Then let it marinate in the fridge for 1 week before using. You can hold this cheese for 2 more weeks. If you are giving this as a present, get some wide mouthed 8 oz jars and give a friend a disc of cow feta submerged in this olive oil delight!
One other option is to store the feta in an 8% brine solution: 6 to 8oz of kosher salt to 3 quarts water. You can store this for up to 30 days at 48 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.