Feta is the most famous traditional Greek cheese, dating back to Homeric ages (wwwGreece). It was granted protection under the European Union (EU), PDO, in 2002 and only cheeses made in the mountainous regions of Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, Sterea Ellada (Central Greece), Peloponnesus, and Mytilini (Lesvos), from ewe’s or goat’s milk can bear the name ‘Feta’ (within the EU).
In these regions, the herds graze freely in the steep rugged hills and rock-strewn pastures where there are no pesticides, insect repellents or other pollutants. They produce some of the thickest, most aromatic milk in the world. The scent of thyme, marjoram and pine are captured and concentrated in the tiny fat globules in the milk (World Cheese Book ). Feta cheese is so popular in Greece that very little gets exported. The word feta means wedge or slice (wwwDiane Kochilas)
Authentic Greek feta must be made with at least 70 percent sheep’s milk. The rest is goat’s milk, which lends it a characteristic alabaster-white colour and gives the cheese a denser texture. (wwwNYTimes)
Once the curds are formed they are cut and drained onto large draining tables. They are turned 2-3 times, and dry salted to speed up the expulsion of whey. Feta is aged for at least 2 months in brine, traditionally, in wooden barrels. Many of the smaller producers, whose cheese is sold in high-end shops, age it for at least six months. (wwwNYTimes)
Feta is classified as soft brined cheese. It is usually cut into small blocks and vacuum packed along with a little brine. The firmness, texture and flavour varies from region to region. For example, Feta from the Peloponnese (Peloponnesus) tends to be harder, drier and saltier than Feta made in Thessaly, and Feta from Macedonia tends to be creamy and mild.
Feta can be hard or soft, creamy or crisp, depending on the cheese maker’s preference and style, the time of year the cheese is produced, the animals’ feed, the age of the cheese and whether it’s made from goat or sheep’s milk. (wwwDianekochilas) The texture depends on age. It ranges from soft, almost spreadable, and very creamy, to firm, compact and creamy yet crumbly, with a myriad of small holes. Regardless of regional differences and varying flavour profiles, good Greek feta should always be solid, with a glistening surface (wwwNYTimes )
The flavour is salty and slightly acidic, and can be mild, or sharp and peppery or with a more pronounced sourness. Feta made from Goat’s milk has a very fresh taste that hints of wild herbs, white wine and slightly goaty tang. Ewe’s milk Feta feels a bit richer and creamier and is more ivory white. The taste is reminiscent of roast lamb, lamb fat and lanolin. Both have a salt tang on the finish and a depth of flavour from grazing in the wild (World Cheese Book).
Feta has a sharp, acidic aroma, one that quickly fills the room. (www.dianekochilas)
- Feta forms a significant part of the Greek diet. It’s so popular in Greece, that very little gets exported. It becomes delicate and complex in its flavour when cooked, and when baked, its sharp flavours mellow, and its richness and complexity come out.
- It’s is used as a table cheese, and in salads, usually with olives, tomatoes, raw onion, and olive oil (e.g. the Greek salad); or mixed with any combination of cooked or raw vegetables; or served with some olive oil or olives and sprinkled with aromatic herbs such as oregano.
- It’s used to make Spanokopita, the delicious cheese and spinach pies found all over Greece and tyropita (cheese pies).
- It can also be served cooked or grilled, as part of a sandwich, in omelettes, or as a salty alternative to other cheeses in a variety of dishes.
- It’s crumbled into salads, stuffings, gratins and savoury pies, melted into sauces, especially with seafood, whipped into dips with herbs and olive oil, pan-fried with crunchy crusts, and savoured on its own.
- Quite often served as saganaki (shallow-fried cheese) see Flaming Cheese Saganki.
- If you find Feta to be too salty, simply soak a chunk in cold water or milk for 10-15 minutes. This removes excess salt but does not mask the flavour.
Feta Style Cheeses outside Greece
Feta-like cheeses are commonly made outside the European Union from full cream or partially skimmed Cow’s milk. They are often called white cheese, Greek Style Cheese, Salad Cheese, Balkan Cheese, Feta Style Cheese, Greek Cheese, White Brined Cheese, Sheep Cheese, Sardinia.
Feta with Wine
The salty flavour of Feta pairs well with beer, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.
- Origin: Greece
- Milk: whole ewe’s or goat’s milk or a mixture of both; pasteurized or raw
- Age: 2-6 months
- Classification: soft brined cheese
- Texture and colour: white to ivory, soft, creamy to compact and crumbly
- Flavour: salty, acid taste and mild to peppery to sour
- Fat content: about 26.2%
- Moisture Content: about 52.9%
- Protein: about 16.7%
- Salt: about 2.9%
- Weight and shape: sold in blocks submerged in brine
- Size: varies depending on producer
- Rind: rindless
The average composition of Feta is: moisture 52.9%, fat 26.2%, proteins 16,7%, salt 2.9% and pH 4.4. (wwwGreece)