The Feta Fete (or, The Cheese Party)

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Feta cheese in its infancy (all photos by Jennifer Shue).

It’s an ancient art that’s making a huge comeback: making your own cheese at home.

“Whoa – hold on there!” you exclaim. “I can bake bread. I know how to use a canner. But cheese making? That sounds pretty complicated … even dangerous!”

Take heart, greenhorns (or green cheeses): like many things, making your own cheese is not nearly as difficult as you think. Depending on what type you want to make, you probably don’t need a lot of fancy, expensive supplies -  just a few necessary ingredients, patience and time.

A major benefit of home cheese making is cost. Ounce for ounce,DSC_1208 cheese is probably one of the most expensive items on your grocery list, and cheeses like feta and bleu can be outrageously priced. Making your own cheese at home lets you make a large amount at a much lower cost.

The first step in making your own cheese: get ahold of a good resource and read up!

The first step in making your own cheese: get ahold of a good resource and read up!

Feta cheese, a salty Greek variety usually made from sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk, is a great place to start. It’s one of the easiest to make, and it’s a versatile cheese that can be enjoyed in many dishes. Unlike many cheeses, feta is ripened in brine.DSC_1210

Saving lots of money while enjoying lots of her favorite cheese was what drew local home cheese maker Jennifer Shue to the craft.

“I have always liked feta,” Shue said, “and when I heard that a friend of mine had made it before, I was curious.”

So Shue and that friend, Martha Coleman, began gathering at DSC_1211Shue’s house every few months to make feta together, splitting each batch between their two families.

“So far the experience has been great,” Shue said. “It is not hard  – it just takes some time to wait in between steps. If the kids are playing nicely, that also makes the experience much better!”

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Feta is aged while hanging in a cheesecloth.

But what about failed batches? Are they inevitable in the learning process? That remains to be seen, but Shue says it’s still worth it. “We have not had any ‘bad batches’ yet. Sometimes it does turn out a little firmer than others, but overall, it (our cheese) has been good. Our thought on the firmness issue is probably back to the original milk and how many solids were in is to begin with.”

“The most difficult thing in my opinion is keeping the milk at the right temp,” Shue said. “You have to be pretty diligent at checking the temperature. You don’t want to go too high and kill the bacteria or too low and it (the batch) not turn out.”

Shue has the following advice for first-time cheese makers: get over the fear and try it!

“I would say just follow instructions as closely as possible and DSC_1240don’t be afraid to try it,” she says.  “If you mess up, try again. I was actually amazed at how easy it really is and when you tell people you made the feta they are eating they get really impressed. It really isn’t rocket science….it’s quite easy – just basic kitchen chemistry and a few supplies.”

As for the famed feta, Shue says her family enjoys it “on salads, pizza, stromboli, in pasta dishes and sometimes my husband will just get a chunk and eat it alone!”DSC_1257

Got a hankering for some homemade cheese? Check out Lehman’s line of cheese making supplies and recources. Who knows? You may end up having a “Feta Fete” of your own.