Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cheese Club: Feta is Betta

In the beginning of June I was able to boast about my first Cheese Club experience.  Somehow two months came and went (did July happen?), and the second meeting was in order.  This time though, I was a returnee.  This time, I needed to bring cheese.  Cheese made from my own two hands.

The theme was Feta.  Wow, I thought, my first cheese...we had officially taken our relationship to the next level.  This moment would bring me from strict consumer to now maker (...and consumer).  There was a lot to risk on the table, so many potential mistakes and failures to be had.  But knowing that cheese and I had formed a bond way back to my first lunch boxes filled with strictly cheese sandwiches (bread, cheese, "no, Mom, nothings else!"), I knew we were ready to take the leap together.

I decided on making solely goat's milk feta (not a mixture of different milks).  Raw and fresh as can be of course from Carol and James' goats, the last hosts of Cheese Club.

Yes, it could have even been right from you, sir.

After maintaining a heat of 86 degrees and adding a culture starter and rennet, the magic started to happen with 'the clean break' - where the whey starts to separate from the curd.

Who cut the curd?


Separating the curd from the whey; still keeping both elements but just separately now

Curd cloud

Impromptu cheese drainer: wrapped in cheese cloth, tied up with sarah wrap, hanging from a soup spoon 'beam'

Releasing more of the whey from the first separation

Unwrapping to then turn over and rewrap and hang again

Cheese crags

Feta ball

Feta disks

Fully covered in kosher salt to bring out even more of the last of the whey.  This is called 'hardening' the cheese; the blocks need as much of the whey extracted from themselves as possible before being submerged into a brine.  Fail to do this and your feta will be soggy and soft once it is in the brine.  No one likes a soggy feta.

During the hardening with this cheese, two discs developed some discoloration on the edge - a result of probable exposure to some germ or bacteria on a surface when the transfer occurred.  Nothing to worry about though, any growth would be killed instantly in the brine and the infected areas were simply cut off.  Phew!

After the hardening process, I took the reserved whey and added salt to make a brine.  The feta discs were submerged in the brine to age and develop flavor for about 3 weeks in the fridge.  Then the day finally arrived.  The day to cut the feta into cubes, taste it, and bring it to the judges, the experts, the masters....the Cheese Club Aficionados.

The setting this time was at the beautiful Leroux Creek, where Janet and Yvon  live, grow grapes, and make a series of exceptional wines.

Back patio view

Rows and rows of grapes

Trusty Lamborn and Lands End mountains always in view

Who is that lounging guest?

Oh, Mr. Turkey, so nice of you to join us

And you know it's just no party until a duck shows up.  He provided some beautiful squaking

And now, the food.

John, master of the potato, tomato, and corn (ie my hero) brought his first ripe tomatoes.  Sliced and layered with some of Yvon's mozzarella and chevre, freshly torn basil, and absolutely doused in top-of-the-line olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  

Could you please just, tip that platter this way....yup, right into my mouth, please?

The Cheese table

Accessorized with Johan's incredible breads.  These baguettes, and what I like to call 'Bread Pillow' loaves, are the same as what we made the weekend before; depicted in the Blazin' Oven, Slow Food post.

Along with John's assortment of boiled potatoes (I live for a good purple potato...)

And Sally brought some marinated piquillo peppers since they are her favorite pairing with feta cheese

Dont forget the walnut shortbread...

...and finally some bright, sweet bing cherries to cleanse the pallet.  And eat by the pound.

And there they were!  Displayed in all of their feta cubes laid out for tasting.  The texture was firm and hearty, and the brine added the quintessential Greek salty kick.  An overall success-

Pam's Reblochon and Munster

Sheep feta

Carol's Camembert.  Do you see that perfect, room temperature ooziness???

And her Tomme

And her feta

Elaine experimented with the brine stage

A significant difference in texture (softness), but both cheeses still had excellent flavor

Sally's amazing trilogy: Her feta in center, Manchego to the right, and her unbeatable version of Reblochon in the back left.  She called it Stinky, I called it a masterpiece. 

There are always the fun experiments somewhere on the table...a chevre Yvon forgot about and a cheese that Elaine made from just whey.  Even cheese mistakes are fun!

Dante has perfected her chevre, and added homemade pesto and olives this time.  You just can't beat those favorite fresh flavors.

Sample plate

Sample plate...#15

See that pool of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and tomato juice?  That is why I stood next to this platter, with slices of Johan's bread, and didn't move for a long time.

John is not only a farmer, but a poet to boot.  Reading some of his poems - all food, farm, and nature inspired - while the rest of us attempted to digest.

And an exciting side note:  the other day I was able to enjoy a saute of zucchini and swiss chard topped with feta.  Zucchini and chard grown with my own two hands, topped with my own cheese.  I'm telling you, there is no greater satisfaction than taking on a main role in the food you eat -  even beyond just the cooking process.
Grow with your hands, cook with your hands, eat with your hands!

I'm thinking that Cheese Making and I will have a happy future together.