Remember that little bread project I did way back when? When I finished that, I wondered aloud what project to move on to next. I wondered if there was a cheese version of the BBA Challenge. Well, Natashya at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies (fellow BBA Challenge baker and very accomplished food blogger) heard my wondering and told me there was such a thing: a little group called Forging Fromage that was learning how to make cheese together, month by month.
I missed the start of this cheesy adventure (it began in September 2009), but the group graciously let me start forging with the June/July challenge: Goat’s Milk Feta for June, and Gouda for July.
M and I had made several fresh cheeses before, including paneer, chèvre, creme fraiche, mozzarella, and ricotta, so I felt pretty prepared to tackle the feta and was looking forward to getting initiated into another classic goat’s milk cheese. If all goes well, we’ll soon be milking a goat of our own and we’ll want to make more than chèvre with what Willowherb gives us.
The forging fromage group is using the feta recipe from The Home Creamery. Before beginning, I compared the recipe to the one in Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making, the cheese making book I know best, and found them to be fairly similar except that The Home Creamery recipe called for using cultured buttermilk as the starter, while Home Cheese Making called for direct-set mesophilic starter. I had the mesophilic starter on hand, but since this was my first “forging” project, I decided to go with the recipe used on the web site and see what happened.
I started by buying the goat milk, which you’d think would be easy enough to find around here, but, in fact, it’s difficult to lay hands on. The local co-op has it for a ridiculous price per quart, but that’s our only current option, so this cheese was a bit of an investment from the start. Less expensive than building a barn and buying three goats, but not that much less expensive.
We set up a double-boiler with the lobster pot so that we could gently, indirectly heat the milk up to 88 degrees.
Once at 88 degrees, we removed the pot from the heat, stirred in 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk, and let the covered pot sit for an hour. I tested the milk’s temperature periodically and found it continued to rise while it sat, so I removed the cover, put the pot in cold water in the sink for a few minutes, and lowered the temperature, then recovered the pot. The milk sat at a nice, stable 88 degrees for the rest of the hour.
Next, we dissolved liquid rennet in a small amount of cool water, thoroughly mixed that in to the milk, and let it sit again, covered, for an hour. The recipe didn’t say specify what temperature to keep it at, but since the next step again mentioned 88 degrees, we kept it at 88 for the next hour.
After an hour, we uncovered the pot and tested to see if the curd had set. And, as if by magic, it had!
We cut the curd into 1″ cubes, then cut again diagonally from both directions.
Then we cooked and stirred the curds gently, for 15 minutes, still keeping everything at 88 degrees.
After 15 minutes, we drained the curds into a butter muslin-lined colander, catching the whey in a bowl beneath the colander.
Then we gathered the corners of the butter muslin
tied the top, and hung it to drain from a hook in the perfectly cool basement.
While the cheese was draining, I took the excess whey and watered the blueberry bushes. The dog loved that.
Six hours later, the feta had firmed up nicely and taken the shape of the butter muslin bag.
When we opened the muslin, I was happy and relieved to see the nubbly feta texture I was hoping for.
I sliced it, placed it in a dish, and salted it.
After 24 hours, it was ready to taste.
During the brief aging, the feta had firmed up even more and it smelled great. On first tasting it, we thought that it was much too salty, so we rinsed off the excess brine. The cheese’s firm texture stood up fine to being handled and rinsed. After it was rinsed, the taste was great: mildly goaty, slightly salty. The texture was firm while still being creamy, and not at all “squeaky” like many store-bought fetas.
The recipe says the feta will store in a covered dish in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Ours didn’t last that long. We ate most of it straight from the dish, in long slices, the first day it was ready. I also cubed some to serve to a group of Hyla’s friends, who visited for a morning of goat cuddling and cheese making. I put the small amount that remained on a salad along with dried cranberries and toasted, slivered almonds. The goats would have loved that.
What’s next? Gouda! I’m excited (and a bit nervous) to try making a semi-hard cheese, but fellow forgers have already begun theirs and it sounds like they’re meeting with some success. The due date for the Gouda is the end of July, so meet me back here in a month to see if I’ve made cheese, or a nasty, moldy science experiment.
Update: To see how everyone fared on this challenge, check out the fabulous Feta roundup on the Forging Fromage blog!
Love being elbow deep in milk? Come join us at Forging Fromage. Check the web site for the current recipes and their due dates. Make the recipe, write about it, then email your link to the contact email listed on the site to be included in the posted round-up.