Fetid Feta Water
I like to buy my feta in chunks as I find the feta crumbles tend to mold rather expediently....I notice though that at many groceries, the feta chunks ( imported, domestic, bulgarian, etc..) are usually floating in in a steampan filled with water, and that water at times appears brackish, muddled, and downright fetid....but that's just the appearance- maybe it's all good, but nonetheless it is a concern- Unless the water is crystal clear, I won't buy it. Is this an irrational act?
Now, when I do go so far as to purchase a nice chunk, I take it home, place it in a small tupperware container, add a liitle Brita-fied water, almost covering the top.
So feta experts, does the water need to be changed periodically? If so, should I change it everyday, every hour- Should it even be stored in water? I notice after a few days that the feta will start to lose it's character, and eventually just taste like TOFU- ie: no taste at all!!!
oh dear. my greek sheep's milk feta comes in *brine.* it's quite salty actually, and i suspect that the murkiness of the water is in part due to the salt-- which also works as an antibacterial, preservative, etc. if you were to replace the brine with plain water, i'd think you'd actually "water down" the taste, speed the decomposition of the feta, and possibly make it dangerous to eat. if you feel compelled to change the water, at least mix some salt in!
Use the original brine that the feta came in to store it. Ask for it. I have been unsuccessful in trying to "make" a brine. If you can't get the brine (they will almost always include it if you ask), just keep it wrapped in plastic wrap and change the wrap every 3-4 days. It will last for months in the brine. Without it, it might only last a few weeks.
According to this article:
you can change the texture and flavour of feta by altering the liquid it is stored in. If the feta is too salty, you can replace the brine with water and it will absorb some of the salt from the cheese. And you can change the texture, by storing it in milk.
So to answer your questions, the water shouldn't be crystal clear when you buy it. And if you don't want to change the taste of your feta, don't change the water. Leave it in the brine.
Some of the feta I buy is actually stored in oil. We use some of the oil to make the dressing when making Greek Salad.
The water in the trays is cloudy brine because it is actually made from whey. The lactic acid in the whey is an important component in the preservation of the feta. It may look fetid, it's supposed to be that way.
If you can't get some extra brine from the cheesemonger, make your own. To make your own brine, drain a pint of plain live yogurt to yield whey. Then add salt in a ratio of 4TBs salt to 1 Pint of whey. Put cheese in a glass jar so that the cheese is fully covered. Keeps for weeks and weeks, and stays ripe. Rinse before using, if desired.
Sadly, the pasteurization police have prohibitive laws on milk distribution in my state (and many others), so only cow's milk is widely available for us city folks. It's on the life-list, and I've considered traveling for a weekend to the closest sheep milk (and cheese) producer to intern for a few fun days.
This makes sense, but wouldn't the yogurt "whey" alter the flavor of the cheese, especially if it isn't made from the same type of milk? Also, the solution seems a little inconvenient, unless you already have un-strained yogurt on hand. As you said though, the best option is to get it from the cheesemonger. A bit off topic, but your writing makes me think that you are Alton Brown. In fact, as strange as it sounds, I think there are a few famous people in the food world who regularly blog here. To clarify: I don't have any inside info on the subject, it's just a hunch.
A friend of mine from India told me she stored her feta, as others have mentioned in homemade salt water. I just put a couple of tablespoons of sea salt into a container just big enough for the cheese to fit and be covered by the water, add a little water to dissolve the salt, put the cheese in, then fill until cheese is covered with water. I keep in the the fridge and it lasts a long time. I have had it in there sometimes for a month or two. I just break off a chunk and sometimes shake the container gently to mix everything back up. Have never had a problem with it. The water definitely gets murky looking. When I hit that last of the chunks, I strain the remaining "crumbles" and use those also!