Lekker: Homemade Feta-ish Cheese

I suppose this recipe is the one that started this blog in the first place, and if I made any sense at all I would have made this the first entry. But whatevs. I tried my hand at this last weekend for the first time on a whim and posted the results to Instagram. My friend Eliza begged for the recipe and gave me the push I needed to start this little thing, so here we are!

I got the idea from a buddy of mine, Lucas, who I'm fairly certain is some sort of international secret agent or former drug lord. Jury's still out; all I know is that he's already retired at age 32 and does nothing all day except cook delicious things whilst drinking and sends me pictures of all of it. Drives me bananas, but he gives me good recipes so we're still friends. This came about because he had picked about a dozen ears of fresh corn from his garden and wondered what to do with them. I suggested a simple roasted corn salad, which calls for feta cheese, and two hours later I get a photo that features a pan of insta-made feta cheese. WHAT?! That's a thing? You can do that?


Farmer Henry shows you how, here, and he's the most adorable farmer I've ever seen.

His video is for making goat's cheese, which obviously uses goat's milk. I didn't have that on hand and Lucas had made it with cow's milk and enjoyed it that way, so I followed his lead. 

I halved the recipe as well since my thighs do not need three cups of cheese sitting in my fridge, so here goes:

Homemade Two Hour "Feta"-ish Cheese
makes about 1.5 cups of cheese

I have "feta" in quotation marks there because this isn't a TRUE feta cheese. It's not brined for a week, and it's not made out of sheep's milk or goat's milk. I did try a second batch with goat's milk, but having done zero research on it I used the only goat's milk I could find at the store which was ultra-pasteurized--which you apparently cannot use. It refused to curdle (stubborn brat) and I wound up throwing it all down the sink. As soon as I can get my hands on some sheep's milk, I will be making this recipe with that--plus experimenting with a brine for a few days. But that's all for later, for now, CHEESE!

What You Need
1/2 gallon whole cow's milk (I used organic)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
cheesecloth (which you can usually find in the grocery store by the alu foil and cling wrap; sometimes I think it's called butter muslin and you can use either)
a strainer of some kind 
Optional: olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper for seasoning

What You Do
1. Pour the milk into a large non-reactive metal pot (that means no aluminum) on the stove over medium-low heat. You'll need a wooden spoon and a bit of patience for this part, because you're going to have to park your butt at the stove for about 15 minutes to bring that milk to a slow boil. Stir gently and constantly to keep it moving, otherwise you'll scald the milk and it'll taste all weird. Don't be a lazy ass and turn up the heat, it'll get there.

2. As soon as it gets to a boil, turn off the heat and add the 1/4 cup of vinegar and stir gently. This will cause the milk to break and you'll see curds start to form and the liquid around it (called the whey) will go yellow. Give it a minute or two to finish curdling. Looks disgusting at this stage.

3. Now comes time to strain it. You'll need a large bowl with a strainer set up inside it, into which you will lay your cheesecloth nicely. The point is to ladle or pour this mixture into the cheesecloth, which will be supported by the strainer, so the whey can be collected in the bowl. I'd do this in the sink if I were you. You'll then want to gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze more of the liquid out of it. The drier you get it, the firmer your cheese will be.

Yes, that's the strainer from a salad spinner. It's all I had. Don't judge me. Also, this was after I had poured out all the whey, because there was a LOT and nearly made a giant mess on my countertop. Hence the sink suggestion.

4. So at this point, having done more research after the fact, I learned that most cheese makers tie up the cheesecloth into a nice little bundle and hang it from a wooden spoon that's been laid over a bowl so that it can drain further for a few hours. I didn't know this and would have been too impatient anyway, so I just squeezed the hell out of it until it looked like this:

That's the great thing about trying new things in cooking. When you have no idea what you're doing, it's hard to care too much about doing it "perfectly." Wine helps with this.

Hooray! I then dumped it out into a bowl and tasted it. It was kind of bland and I was sort of disappointed until I remembered that Farmer Henry in all his adorable overall-ed glory told me I could season it however I wanted. Feta cheese has a tang, right? So in went salt and pepper, lots of lemon juice and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, fluffed with a fork until I thought it tasted great.

The olive oil added a bit of colour, but it wasn't actually yellow, those are just my kitchen lights.

I smooshed it all down into a little Pyrex container trying to compact it as much as possible to form nice crumbles and stuck it in the fridge to cool down and firm up for a few hours. In the meantime I poured myself a(nother) celebratory glass of wine and bragged to Lucas and my friend Ghost about my clear supreme excellence in cheese making. (Nevermind the batch of goat's milk cheese I promptly screwed up not 20 minutes later.)

I ate it sprinkled over grilled eggplant and tomatoes for dinner in the evening, and it was awesome. TB is not a huge fan of feta but he tossed it into a stir fry later in the week and gave me two thumbs up. Will absolutely be doing this again, and you should give it a whirl too. It's easy and pretty step-by-step, and who cares if you screw it up? All that's wasted is a half gallon of milk.

Stay tuned for further variations. I refuse to be thwarted in my quest for a magnificently creamy goat cheese bedecked with fresh cut basil from my garden. 

Posted on August 19, 2013 .