How to choose a good Feta cheese
Selecting a really great Feta involves so much more than reaching for a pack of white ‘salad cheese’!
Step away from the cheese aisle and think!
Feta is an age-old cheese; it is a genius blend of milk and salt, liquid and solid, age and freshness, mildness and flavour. As ancient as the wisdom of Aristotle, entrenched in the tales of Homer; Feta is a matter of national pride, steeped in the antiquity of the Greek culture; engrained in its history and heritage. The Mediterranean climate, the mountains, shepherds watching their sheep and goats: combine all of these components and the result is….Feta cheese!
After an enormous struggle for rightful recognition as an authentically Greek product, Feta was placed on the register of Protected Designation of Origin in the European Union in 2002. This long-awaited honour serves to protect Feta as a truly Greek cheese, produced on its land, manufactured in its ways of old, combining local ingredients to produce a unique, irresistible and versatile treat to be eaten any time of the day. It is the very heart of any Greek home. Proof? The Greeks are the number one consumers of cheese in the world - on average up to 25 kgs per person - and almost half of this is, yes, you guessed it, wonderful crumbly, salty Feta!
Historically, cows came late to Greece so it makes sense that Feta is only made with milk from sheep: at least 70% of it! When necessary, a mixture of sheep milk and goat’s milk is used but always in a 70/30 blend. After the milk has curdled, the whey is removed and the curd is packed into blocks and barrelled. The whey is then carefully combined with salt and water to create brine which is poured over this rind-less, pure white cheese keeping it moist and aromatic. After a short maturation period of up to six months, the Feta is ready to be sold…but always in its liquid brine. Over time, this unusual cheese, which is, essentially, pickled, continues to develop flavour and piquancy.
Feta varies according to the areas in which it is produced; from Thrace to Thessaly, Mainland Greece to Macedonia, Lesvos to the Peloponnese…the textures, flavours and intensities will vary. It may fluctuate in texture from slightly hard to soft; in flavour from mild to spicy but, no matter the area or the animal, a quality Feta is firm and crumbly with few holes and a creamy, tangy taste.
When selecting a Feta, use this simple guide:
- Flavour: up to 2% salt but mild with a sharp after-taste (its saltiness will increase with age);
- EU Status: true Feta is product of Greece alone with 70% sheep milk content;
- Texture: varieties may be firm to soft, averaging 56% moisture, compact, granular, creamy;
- Advantages: lasts a long time, highly versatile, fewer calories, less is more, totally delicious.
Feta cheese is the perfect complement to any meal whether you are enjoying a slice of watermelon, a crispy salad, a lamb burger, a delectable spanakopita, a simple sandwich or just a bowl of olives.