Greek Feta Cheese
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“Thereafter he sat down and milked the ewes and bleating goats all in turn, and beneath each dam he placed her young. Then presently he curdled half the white milk, and gathered it in wicker baskets and laid it away”
Homer, The Odyssey, Book 9, line 244-7
Feta cheese is made from either ewe’s milk or a combination of ewes’ and goats’ milk (maximum 30% goats’ milk). The breeds used to produce feta have adapted to the mountainous terrain of the feta producing regions and feed on the incredibly rich range of flora which grows in these areas. Subsequently there are greater quantities of suitable milk at different times of year. In general the main production of feta takes place from November to June.
ii. PROPERTIES OF THE MILK
Ewe’s milk Acidity < 0.25% pH > 6.50 Fat content > 6.0%
Traditionally feta was made with unpasteurised milk however industrial diaries now must use pasteurised milk due to concerns over public health and export regulations. The milk is pasteurised at a minimum of 71.1ºC for fifteen seconds or any equivalent time-temperature combination. The use of pasteurised milk necessitates the use of lactic acid starter cultures and calcium chloride to help achieve the right taste profile. These are added after pasteurisation as the milk is being held at 33-34ºC. These are the only additives allowed in feta production.
After the milk has been refrigerated for twenty minutes the rennet is added to coagulate the milk. Traditionally the rennet was sourced from unweaned lambs and kids however commercial producers now use commercial rennets.
v. STRAINING THE CURDS
After coagulation the curds are diced up and left in the whey for ten minutes. Following this they are moved into cylindrical or rectangular moulds which have a series of small holes designed to facilitate draining. The filled moulds are stored at 16-18ºC for 18-24 hours and turned periodically to ensure even drainage occurs and that all the curds are subject to equal amounts of pressure.
After drainage the cheese is taken from the moulds and placed in wooden barrels or metal containers for 2-3 days. Between each layer of cheese coarse grain salt is sprinkled over the cheese. This is essential to ensuring the distinctive taste of the cheese which, as a final product, contains approximately 3% salt.
Once the cheese has been salted it is matured for 14-20 days in brine. This part of the process takes place in rooms at 16-18ºC with high humidity. At this point the cheese will have humidty less than 56% and pH 4.4-4.6. After this the second maturation takes place. For two months the feta is kept refridgerated in its brine at 1-4ºC and at least 85% humidity.
Feta must be matured for at least two months in order for it to develop its unique taste. Both the salting and maturation process can take place in metal containers or wooden barrels however barrel aged feta has a vastly superior taste and is a fundamentally more authentic product. Rather than being left to soak in brine for two months the feta is tightly packed into beech wood barrels where it matures in its own juices. During this time it develops a more intense, slightly spicy flavour and adopts the flavour characteristics of the beech barrel. After this maturation process is complete, the barrel aged feta is best stored in brine to maintain its deliciously creamy texture.