Monday, April 9, 2012

Udderly Delicious: Marinated Feta Cheese

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
The recipe I used was from the Fias Co Farm website. I was able to pick up some mesophilic culture (I used the starter culture so I could keep producing my own), rennet, and lipase from Brewstock in New Orleans (always amazing prices there -- if you're into beer, wine, or cheese making you should check them out). The process was pretty simple and merely took time. Those of you who know me know that I don't mind waiting for food, so the week wait was well worth it.

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 
Cut the feta cheese into small cubes.  I was planning on using this like a bruschetta so I went for fairly small sized cubes, about 1/2" on each side.

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.

Once done, fill to the top with olive oil. Try and poke down anything that might be sticking above the oil. It's unlikely you'll be keeping this for a long time, but the whole thing keeps longer if there are no herbs poking through the top surface.

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 ...

Since I eating warm, fresh bread, I've been keeping a tub in the fridge with some of the dough from Artisan Bread in Five.  Essentially you mix the ingredients in a container, let it rise, store it in the fridge, and pull off a lump whenever you need it.  One morning I was able to pull off a piece, let it come to room temperature while the oven was preheating, and had hot bread ready for the ride to work! It takes very little effort, especially if you have to work hard to manage your time like me.  If you have a hard time navigating their site for the recipe, read this article written about them in Mother Earth News.


  1. AHH! This looks so fantastic! Now I want a I don't...maybe..yum! cheese! :)

    1. I think it was one of the better purchases we made (the goats). And this milk is fantabulous. We're drying up one of them right now, and the other one is getting dried up next month. I'm trying to freeze as much milk as possible so I have some stocked. :)