Cheese Tasting

One downside of a blog is that it's not the greatest place to post little updates on things like cheese that have just been coming along at their own pace for the last couple of months. But the cheese has indeed been coming along, as you can see.

   Homemade Creamy Feta, Shankleesh and Classic Style Feta in the back; Fern's Edge Feta in front.

   Homemade Creamy Feta, Shankleesh and Classic Style Feta in the back; Fern's Edge Feta in front.

As you may remember, we started a classic style feta, a creamy (or Bulgarian) feta, and a middle-eastern yogurt cheese called shankleesh. We then did our best to forget about them. Benign neglect, really. The shankleesh lived in the garage, and the jars of feta lived in the back of the refrigerator.

Over the past many weeks, our three cheeses have been aging and we have been tasting, and now that the cheeses are gone, I can honestly say they were great. Maybe they were even outstanding, if you consider that they were our very first attempt at aged cheeses.

And we were very patient. After I had counted, Wyatt put a sticker on the calendar to mark the day that our creamy feta turned 30 days old. When that day arrived, Marc, Wyatt and I tried all three cheeses. The shankleesh was really full-flavored thanks to the tangy yogurt and herbs. Wyatt claimed it was sour and didn't enjoy it. The fetas, on the other hand, while definitely fetas in texture and appearance, were still pretty mild and frankly a little boring in flavor. So all the jars went back to their aging locations.

A month later, we tried the cheeses again. But we were even bolder than just tasting them ourselves. We carried them with us when we flew to visit friends in Los Angeles. I packed the cheeses in containers in Wyatt's lunch bag (without brine or oil, lest they be confiscated by TSA) and guarded them in my carry-on. We enjoyed all the cheeses with our friends during lunch at their house the day we arrived. Fortunately, the cheeses had either remained the same or improved somewhat over the last month. The shankleesh tasted the same, but the fetas had definitely changed. The more classic feta had become softer and saltier. The creamy feta had become drier and deliciously tangy, but remained only slightly salty in flavor.

A few weeks after our Los Angeles trip, we brought the cheese out for another tasting, this time with some local friends. Once again, the shankleesh didn't taste much different. But with the fetas, the same flavor trend had continued. The classic feta had become almost too salty to enjoy on its own, and the creamy feta was still tangy, showed even more complex flavors, and remained only slightly salty.

During this last tasting, we tried our homemade cheeses beside a commercially available artisan goat feta, Fern's Edge, that I had found at Rainbow Grocery. The Fern's Edge feta was amazing, of course, but what shocked me was that it wasn't actually better than the creamy feta we had made. We achieved some wonderful flavors in our cheese that weren't present in the Fern's Edge. And even though I had mentally downgraded our classic feta because it had taken on so much salt, after trying some commercially available sheep's milk feta last weekend, I found myself stunned at its saltiness and its similarity in texture to our classic feta. I started to think that there may not have been anything wrong with our execution of our classic feta after all.

These successes have been more than enough to encourage us to continue trying to make aged cheeses. Now that the weather is cooler, we have started to think about trying aged goat cheeses and camembert. We are even ten days into aging a mason jar marcellin from The Art of Natural Cheesemaking.  Here's a photo of our cheese so far, with Geotrichum candidum well-established on the rind. The cheese smells a lot like camembert, and I find its wrinkles adorable, the same way I find wrinkly Shar-Pei dogs adorable. I am still astonished that this remarkable little pot of cheese started out simply as raw milk and kefir culture. But more on the story of this cheese later, in its very own blog post.

Meanwhile, this jar and its four siblings went into the refrigerator today. We'll check them again in two weeks to see how they're doing.