High-salt, high-acid cheeses were likely among the first cheeses intentionally produced by humans. They would have had a much longer shelf-life than other similarly produced soft cheeses that had lower salt content. These cheeses have long been popular in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as the Balkan region of Eastern Europe. In the past twenty years, production and consumption of these cheeses has spread throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, and Aus-tralia.The most popular cheese in this category is undoubtedly Feta cheese, which has its origins in Greece. Other similar types exist and vary based mostly on salting method (whether applied before or after curd formation). Although they are often packaged dry in the United States, it is more common for retail Feta-type cheeses to be packaged in tubs containing salt brine.
The general manufacturing procedures for Feta-type cheese start with a pasteurization step, since the cheese is usually consumed fresh (aged for as little as a few weeks). In Greece and other European countries, raw milk is often used. The milk itself can be obtained from cows, sheep, or goats. In many modern facilities, ultrafiltered milk is used.The milk is inoculated with a mesophilic starter containing L. lactis subsp. lactis and L. lactis subsp. cre-moris. The culture is added at the rate of 2% and allowed to ripen in the milk for as long as two hours prior to addition of chymosin. The large inoculum and long ripening time results in considerable acid development and a decrease in pH even before chymosin is added.
A rennet paste, a crude preparation containing a mixture of enzymes, is used in traditional
Feta manufacture. Other proteases as well as li-pases are among the enzymes present in this paste. The latter can also be added separately, in the form of a lipase extract obtained from animal or microbial sources. The coagulation time can be an hour or longer. The coagulum will be very firm at cutting. The large curds (2 cm) are stirred for only a short time before being dipped and filled into hoops, which are flipped and turned for several hours.Fermenta-tion occurs quickly and the pH will reach 4.7 or lower within eight hours.The cheese is then either placed into a 18% salt brine for twelve to twenty-four hours, or dry salted for one to three days.The salted cheeses are then placed in a 10% brine and held until packaging and distribution.
The Feta-type cheeses have a very short, crumbly texture, due, in part, to low pH (<4.7) and high salt.As the pH approaches the isoelectric point of casein (pH 4.6), less water is retained. Also, high brine concentrations cause the casein network to shrink, releasing even more water from the cheese. Both of these fac tors make Feta crumbly.The main flavors in Feta are due to lactic acid and salt, but, depending on the presence of lipases (exogenous or from milk), there can also be considerable hydrolysis of triglycerides and formation of free fatty acids. It is the release of short, volatile fatty acids, including acetic, propionic, butyric, and valeric acids, that account for the rancid-like flavor notes characteristic of these cheeses.
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