What makes Feta so different from other white cheeses?
Feta is the cheese that caused a series of legal battles, which lasted more than ten years. The result was for feta to be registered as a protected designation of origin (PDO) product. This limits the term within the European Union to feta made exclusively of sheep's/goat's milk in Greece. So what is it that caused this on-going war and what is really the difference between feta and other white cheeses?
Historically, feta follows a long tradition in Greece. It is thought that cheese was accidentally discovered when the milk transported inside animals’ stomachs, curdled. According to scientific references, the production of feta has been known since Homer's time (8th B.C.) and the ancient Greeks used the same technique of storage in brine to produce a type of cheese made of sheep's milk. 8,000 years later the way feta is produced remains the same.
Every dairy factory could produce something like feta and almost every food culture has a similar cheese to be proud of. The problem starts when things get mislabelled and the name ‘feta’ appears on things that aren’t quite that. We have all seen those so-called ‘Greek-style’ cheeses that imply some sort of resemblance to feta; well, you’d be surprised to know: their ingredients are very different to those of feta. The consumer is naturally confused and doesn’t know what exactly feta is. “Isn’t it a white, salty cheese with crumbly texture?” I hear you say and you are quite right. But, actually, it is much more than just that.
Feta’s unique characteristics
Authentic feta is made specifically from sheep’s and goat’s milk. Most of the other white cheeses that claim to be feta-like are usually made of cow’s milk. What a major difference! Cow’s milk has a very mild taste and produces a cheese that is soft and less flavorsome. Feta’s special, tangy flavor is not just down to ‘the recipe’ but it derives from other factors too. For example, what the goats eat (each and every herb, people!) ‘seasons’ the milk in an uncommon way. That is one of the reasons why feta can’t be produced outside of Greece. The bacterial cultures, the temperature, the humidity and time that the cheese has been cured for, also help create that unique taste and texture.
Feta has more of a ‘kick’ than its imitations when it comes to taste; because of this unmatched taste, it is used almost as a condiment in the Greek cuisine. I’m not saying that the other cheeses are bad; all I’m saying is that they just aren’t feta!