Today, Feta (Φέτα) is prepared in Greece either in small family-run cheese dairies where traditional technology is applied, or in industrial units equipped with modern equipment aiming at the minimisation of production cost and the improvement of product quality, that still respect the basic principles of the traditional technology of cheese making.
Goat and sheep milk as raw material for Feta (Φέτα) production
Feta (Φέτα) is prepared from sheep milk or a mixture of sheep and goat, which cannot exceed 30% of the total.
The raising of goats and sheep dates from ancient times. This branch of sheep and goat breeding always flourished in the Mediterranean countries.
Since ancient times, there have been a lot of references regarding sheep and goats. Homer’s mention is characteristic :
“ on the sheep the corns grow hand in hand and ewes give birth three times per year”
(Odyssey, Homer, A 85-91)
Milk comes from sheep and goat races, which are traditionally raised and adapted to the region where their diet is based on local flora.
Sheep and goat milk is mainly produced in Greece’s mountainous regions, where an ecosystem rich in plant and animal life is to be found. This richness is basically due to the ground and climate conditions.
The rich sensory characteristics of sheep and goat milk, and therefore of the Feta (Φέτα) produced with it, are owed to this unique ecosystem, combined with the natural raising of indigenous sheep and goats.
Feta (Φέτα) is a high quality cheese, conserved in brine, in sliced form.
Milk is collected by producers (cattle-breeders) and brought to the cheese dairy in large kegs. The milk coagulation has to occur within 48 hours from its collection.
Initially, sheep and goat milk is standardised and then pasteurised in 68oC for 10 min (slow pasteurisation), or in 72oC for 15 sec (fast pasteurisation).
Following that, milk is refrigerated in 34-36°C, lactic acid starter cultures and chloride calcium in a proportion of 10-20/100 kg milk are added; and finally, 20 mins later, enough rennet for coagulation to occur in 45-60 mins.
As soon as milk coagulation is complete, the curd is cut in small cubes (1-2 cm wide), and left for 10 min. The curd is then transported progressively and carefully into moulds, which favour draining and shaping of small cuts.
The filled moulds are then transported to a room with a temperature of 16-18oC, where they remain for 18-24 hours. During this period, they are periodically turned over for better draining.
The next day, cheese is removed from the moulds and placed temporarily either in wooden barrels or metal containers, where it is salted in layers, so that final concentration of salt in the mass of cheese is roughly 3%.
After 2-3 days, cheese is placed into barrels or other containers with brine, containing 7% sodium chloride (NaCl). They are transported into the maturing chambers; rooms with a temperature of 16-18oC and very high relative humidity, where they remain for 10-15 days, until the first stage of maturing is complete. During this time, Feta’s particular sensory characteristics are developed. At the end of the first stage of maturing, Feta’s moisture is lower than 56%, and its pH ranges between 4,4 – 4,6.
Then, during the second stage of maturing, Feta (Φέτα) is transported into refrigerators with a temperature of 2-4 degrees Celsius. The total maturing time of Feta (Φέτα) lasts at least 2 months.
It is worth mentioning that condensation, addition of any form of powder or condensed milk, milk proteins, casein salts, colour, conservatives and antibiotics to either milk, Feta (Φέτα) or brine is strictly prohibited.
Until its distribution, Feta (Φέτα) is conserved in refrigerator units with a temperature of 0-2 oC. During its conservation in metal containers or wooden barrels, it must be covered with brine containing 7 % salt, and avoid contact with air. This way, it maintains its freshness and rich sensory characteristics.
Feta (Φέτα) can then be distributed to the consumer straight out of the barrel or metal container.
As far as packages are concerned, Feta (Φέτα) is also distributed in airtight packages sealed in vacuum and in containers where Feta (Φέτα) is preserved in its natural brine. These packages offer great convenience to the consumer.