Ossetian feta cheese
The history of Ossetian Cheese goes back to ancient times, when alans - mostly cattle-breeders, used it as one of the main components of their food.
Ossetian cheese with its distinctive taste is close to Feta, a cheese of Greek origin. Ossetians originally made it with either sheep's or a mixture of sheep’s and goat's milk. Today most people make it using cow's milk. To get milk set they use dried and salted cow’s or sheep’s rennet. Ossetians have lots of it, because traditionally they kill those animals for every fest (kouvd), weddings, and also funerals and memorials. For cheese-making they put a piece of rennet into a cup (0.5 litre ) with whey. It takes couple days to get the rennet mix ready. Using fresh non-pasterised milk, as Ossetians do, there is no need in Mesophilic Starter Culture.
Ossetian cheese can be used fresh (as fromage cheese), often for making well known traditional Ossetian pies and for Dzykka. To keep it longer without refrigerators Ossetians salted it several times until it gets dry and salt penetrates trough. But they also had a technology to store cheese for up to two years. In this case cheese also gets its salty flavor from aging in a brine bath for up to a month. If a crumbly version is desired it can be aged even longer. This is a great cheese for cooking, for salads and other purposes.
Ossetian Cheese Recipe.
2 Gallons (8 litres) Fresh Milk
4 oz. (120-150 g) Mesophilic Starter Culture (butter-milk or fresh kefir can be used instead)
100 g of rennet-whey mix or 1 tab Rennet
1. Warm the milk to 85 F (29.5 C) in a saucepan.
2. Add 4 oz of mesophilic starter culture (or its substitute) and mix thoroughly with a whisk, the culture must be uniform throughout the milk.
3. Allow the milk to ripen for two hours
4. If you do not have rennet-whey mix dissolve 1 tab rennet into 6-8 table spoons COOL water. Hot water will DESTROY the rennet enzymes.
5. Slowly pour the rennet into the milk stirring constantly with a whisk.
6. Stir for at least 5 minutes.
7. Allow the milk to set for 3-5 hours until a firm curd is set and a clean break can be obtained when the curd is cut.
8. Stir the curds gently and cut any pieces that are bigger then 1/2 inch cubes.
9. Allow the curds to sit for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.
10. Ossetians gently and slowly gather with hands the pieces of curds on the bottom of saucepan (pail also could be used) and then take cheese out of whey. The first several days they keep it in a about 10-12” wide cup once a day pouring out accumulating whey.
But here is also the way how Greek people do it (starting from #10).
10. Drain the whey by pouring through cheesecloth lined colander. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together and allow the curds to drain for 5 hours.
11. Remover the cheese from the cloth and stuff it into a rectangular container, so that it is about an inch thick, and put a cover on it (Tupperware works well for this).
Ossetian cheese can be used fresh for traditional pies (see the article “Ossetian traditional pies”) and also salted as a cold collation. To store it for a longer time saving its taste and quality Ossetians made some brine (khandyg) in a special barrel (miganan). They put in it about 30-50 pieces of cheese.
** Brine solution
Ossetians made brine solution using an egg as a detector. When it does not drown any more – the solution is salted enough. But here is more modern way which is been used by Greek people again.
1. Dissolve 1.5 cups of salt into one quart warm water.
2. Cool the brine in your freezer, some salt will precipitate out.
3. To use the solution, simply place it in a bowl and place your cheese into it.
4. After you are done with the brine, you can store it in a container in your freezer.
5. With each new cheese, you will need to add additional salt so that the solution is saturated.
6. The solution is saturated with salt when no additional salt can be dissolved no matter how long you stir.
Mesophilic Starter Culture
Cheese cultures are necessary to inoculate the milk with friendly bacteria. These bacteria serve two functions. First, they cause the milk to become more acidic aiding its coagulation. Second, the bacteria help develop the flavor of the cheese.
Cheese cultures are divided into two basic types mesophilic and thermophilic. These terms describes at the temperature the culture thrives at. Mesophilic (from the Greek words meso - meaning intermediate and philic - which means loving) cultures thrive around room temperatures. Thermophilic (from the Greek words thermo - meaning heat and philic - which means loving) cultures require a higher temperature. Professional quality cultures can be bought from a cheesemaking supply company. They are usually available in a freeze dried form. A home-spun method is to use cultured buttermilk as a mesophilic starter or fresh yogurt as a thermophilic starter.
This simplest of cultures can generally be used for all recipes requiring a Mesophilic Starter. The taste of the final product will vary slightly from that of a true cheese culture.
1. Start with 2 cups of FRESH store bought Cultured Buttermilk.
2. Let the 2 Cups of buttermilk reach room temp. (70 F/ 21 C).
3. Then allow the buttermilk to ripen for about 6-8 hrs. (Store bought buttermilk does not have a high enough concentration of bacteria to serve as a starter culture without ripening.)
4. The resulting buttermilk will be much thicker and sour then what you started with. It should have the consistency of fresh yogurt, if it doesn't let it sit a few more hours.
5. Pour this culture into a full sized CLEAN ice cube tray and put into your FREEZER. As with all steps of cheesemaking, cleanliness is next to godliness.
6. Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags. It is a good idea to label the container to distinguish it from your thermophilic culture.
7. The resulting ice cubes are each 1 oz of mesophilic starter.
8. Add these cubes (thawed) to your recipes as required. The cubes will keep for about one month.
To make more starter simply thaw one cube and add into 2 cups of fresh milk. Mix thoroughly with a fork or a whisk. Allow the milk/culture to stand at room temperature (70 F/ 21 C) for 16-24 hours or until the consistency of fresh yogurt. Then follow from step 5.