My Family & Other Cheeses
If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time. Marcel Proust
Image Courtessy of Corfu Town
Now the holiday itself was a bit of a disappointment, mainly because of my teenage lack of appreciation at a rural holiday. But the food? Well that was something else altogether. Long, lazy lunches sitting in the shade, watching the world go by.
It was in Corfu that I ate my first true “Greek Salad”, tasted stifado and dolmades, and got a real taste for the cuisine of Greece. One of my favourite dishes was a vibrant mixed vegetable stew that came topped with a plentiful supply of crumbled salty feta and oodles of fresh herbs.
After the having the Proustian moment, I just had to try my hand at making feta and the vegetable stew. How could I not?
Of course this isn’t real feta cheese, to make real feta cheese, I would need to head off to Greece, employ their traditional methods of cheese making and use the local sheep’s milk. This is then, I suppose my faux feta, or as I’d rather say: my Greek style Feta.
Feta is a milk white brine cured cheese with a soft, friable texture. Excellent for crumbling into salads – feta & watermelon salad is delightful, or diced and mixed with olive oil to be served with a dish of olives as a light snack.
After the inital fermentation both the curds and whey are reheated in combination before draining and a light pressing follow. The cheese is then cut into slabs and immersed in a brine solution, which gives the feta its trademark sharply acidic, pointedly salty flavour.
Feta has been made in much the same way since classical times, in fact, there are records of the cheese being produced in the Byzantine period. Interestingly though it only acquired it’s present name in the 17th century, oddly enough from the Italian word fetta meaning ‘slice’ because of the way it was served.
Enough with the technicalities. Whatever you’d like to call it, it tastes pretty darn good and is well worth trying out yourselves. Sure it’s not exactly a speedy process but it doesn’t require all that much effort, well not as much as say making mozzarella would at any rate.
As for the vegetable stew, well that couldn’t be simpler. A one pot, way of making the most of some great produce. I adapted a recipe for Hortarika Briam from The Best Traditional Recipe of Greek Cooking by Dimitri Haitalis, a book I brought back from the trip to Corfu all those years ago, but it is open to individuality and seasonality. As good at room temperature as it is fresh, steaming from the pot. The original recipe calls for potatoes to be added to the stew, I prefer not to have spuds in a stew so roasted some potato slices separately to have alongside the dish. As I said, the choice is yours.
Makes approximately 600g
- 4 litres milk
- 60ml buttermilk (or 40ml cheese culture)
- 4 drops rennet
- 1 quantity of brine solution
- Warm the milk to 29.5C, then remove from the heat and add the buttermillk, whisking thoroughly to distribute.
- Leave to ripen for 2 hours.
- Add the rennet and stir for 3-4 minutes.
- Leave to set until you can achieve a clean break in the curd. The original recipe suggests you may need 1-2 hours to get to this stage, I needed about 3 hours.
- Using a knife, cut the curds, first into cuboids by making a series of cuts top to bottom and then left to right across the curd mass at intervals of about 1.5cm. Then cut into the curds along the existing cuts at about a 45 degree angle to slice up the cuboids. The goal is to end up with roughly even-sized pieces, around the size of a kidney bean.
- Leave for 10 minutes to allow the curds to firm up.
- Stir the curds gently and cut any pieces that are larger than bean-sized.
- Allow to sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
- Line a colander with your muslin or cheesecloth and pour in the curd, draining off the whey. Tie the corners of the cloth together and allow to drain for about 5 hours.
- Remove the cheese from the cloth and pack it into one or more rectangular containers, so that it is about 2.5cm thick.
- Chill in the fridge for about 90 minutes.
- Remove and cut into approx. 2.5cm cubes
- To age the cheese, place the cubes in a cold brine solution for 5-30 days and store in the fridge. It should get crumblier the longer it is aged.
- After aging, remove and pat dry and store in an air tight container (or you can leave it in the brine solution and it should keep for longer).
- 125-150g salt (Aoife suggested using smoked salt, I’ll try this next time)
- approx 750ml water
- Dissolve the salt in warm water.
- Cool the brine in your freezer.
- Place cheese in brine solution as needed.
NB. After you’ve finished using the brine, you can freeze it for reuse (though you’ll probably need to top it up with additional salt before using it again)
Greek Vegetable Stew (Hortarika Briam)
- 2 courgettes
- 1 aubergine
- 1 red pepper
- 2 onions
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 50ml olive oil
- 1 teaspoon mint
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180C or the equivalent.
- Wash the vegetables, remove the stem ends of the courgettes, the aubergine and the pepper and peel the onions.
- Cut them into thick slices and place them in a baking dish.
- Add the olive oil, tomatoes, oregano and mint, season well and bake for around 90 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Check on the dish periodically as a little water or stock may need to be added.
- Serve warm with feta and scattered with the parsley.