According to European Union law, I can't technically call what I made feta cheese. But you know what? It's feta cheese. So I'm calling it feta cheese. (Go ahead, bring it on EU.)
Feta is one of my favorite cheeses. I like the strong flavor and I love the texture of it a lot. It's like a blue cheese without the blue. More importantly, I like how flexible it is. It's good in salads, with eggs, on burgers ... the list goes on. However, for this post and for the cheese that we made, I wanted it to stand out on its own.
Making cheese is fascinating to me. I love the idea of making butter -- separating the butterfats from the buttermilk -- but this is completely different. There are many ways to separate the milk solids from the whey, usually using an acid or an enzyme. You'll see in some upcoming posts how to use an acid; in this case, calf rennet was used.
Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomach lining of a baby cow (warning, graphic photos of offal in that link). The enzyme causes milk to curdle, aiding in the digesting of the milk during the calf's youth. I'm not sure how someone figured this out, but essentially the stomach lining can be harvested during slaughter and dried, and a small square of it would traditionally be mixed in with milk to make some simple cheeses. This enzyme also exists in nature elsewhere, such as in fungi or in certain plants (thistle contains this enzyme -- I'm planning on harvesting some as we have many growing all over the property), so you do have an option of purchasing vegetable rennet if you're a vegetarian (who obviously isn't vegan, if you're making milk) or looking to make a kosher cheese (so that no meat product touches the milk).
|Feta in a brine of whey, salt, and water|
Marinating feta is one of the easiest things you can do. (Actually, you can do this with a lot of different cheeses.) The olive oil pulls flavors from the herbs and the cheese pulls the flavor from the oil. Once the cheese is gone, you can put the oil to good use.
I was happy that when putting this together it almost reached "homegrown" status. We made the cheese from milk from our goats, and the rosemary and thyme came from our little herb garden. The crushed red pepper was a mixture of some store bought and some leftover from last year that I had dehydrated and crushed for easier storage. If only I had pressed the olive oil myself and harvested my own black pepper it would have been 100% homegrown.
For this recipe, you a nice hard feta cheese. Use fresh herbs if you can, but as usual don't feel limited by what you see here! Other fresh herbs might do some good here. These are some estimations. If you love rosemary then you might want some more. I found that two sprigs each of rosemary and thyme in each pint jar gave a great flavor.
- 1 lb. feta cheese
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary (about 3-4 Tbs. dried)
- 4 sprigs fresh lemon thyme (about 1 Tbs dried)
- 4 tsp. crushed red pepper
- black pepper
- olive oil
- 2 pint jars
Start by putting some feta cubes in the jar, then sprinkling with a little crushed red pepper. Then more feta, then some black pepper (optional, since K isn't a big fan of pepper in our house). Continue in these layers. Once you reach about halfway, put the rosemary and thyme in around the sides. Again continue with your layering. Give it a shake once in awhile to make sure the cheese is settling.
Let this sit in your fridge (not on the counter!) for at least a couple of days. The flavor gets stronger with age. Try some of the cheese on a small slice of warm bread. Add it to some scrambled eggs or an omelette. When it's done, use the oil to make a vinaigrette or use as a dip for some bread! And, speaking of bread ...