Looking for a taste of cheesy freshness? You will definitely find it a single bite of feta cheese. Feta cheese is a soft cheese originating from Greece. With a crumbly texture and a tangy flavor, it is so popular in Greece that only a small amount of it gets exported. They have to keep the rest for their own enjoyment!
And that isn’t the only fact which illustrates just how much the Greeks love their feta. It is said that feta cheese accounts for almost 70% of overall cheese consumption in Greece. And who can blame them? Luckily for us, this delicious cheese has found its way to many different dishes and cuisines around the globe. It is a cheese so versatile, that it complements numerous pastas, salads and even stuffed vegetables.
What is Feta Cheese Made From?
Feta is a white cheese typically made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. The goat’s milk is responsible for the firmness of the cheese. The more goat’s milk it has, the firmer it gets. So, in order to achieve the perfect flavor and texture distinct for feta, the mixture should only contain up to 30% of goat’s milk.
The recipe for authentic feta cheese has been passed down from generations to generations of cheesemakers in Greece. They say that the secret ingredients of making it are happiness and proper nourishment of sheep and goats living on the cheese farms. What they mean is that these animals eat only what the land provides: organic herbs, oregano, thyme, olive leaves and fresh grass. They are allowed to roam freely on the farm fields. These factors combined have a great effect on the quality of the milk.
The Origin of Feta Cheese
Deeply rooted in Greek cuisine and culture, feta cheese has had an important place in Greece’s cheesemaking history. The word “feta” actually means “slice” or “piece” in Greek, which refers to the way the cheese is cut and served.
The origin of making this white cheesy deliciousness predates recorded history. The Mediterranean climate is the one to thank for feta cheese’s beginnings. Basically, the hot summers made milk and other different foods spoil easily. Without refrigerators as we know them, ancient Greek cheesemakers, farmers and ordinary people had to get creative. They needed to find a way to preserve the excess milk before it got spoiled.
Since goats and sheep were found in abundance in the land, they always used sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goats milks to make the cheese. As a result of their creative efforts and necessity, we are able to enjoy fresh feta cheese today!
How do you Make Feta Cheese?
The process of making feta cheese begins with the pasteurization of the milk. Next, a natural enzyme found in young animals’ stomach is added to the milk, which makes it thicken up and form cheese curds. Cheese curds are then poured into perforated square molds and pressed until the excess liquid is drained. The salt is sprinkled on top of each cheese block with the blocks being turned upside down each time.
The salt acts as a preservative and gives the cheese its salty flavor. The salting and turning process is repeated several times. Finally, the feta is transferred to wood barrels or metal containers and submerged in brine. It is left to age for several weeks or months in which the distinguishable texture and flavor are developed.
The Battle for Feta
Yes, we’re serious! The battle for feta cheese began in the late 20th century. It was centered around a debate whether the word “feta” can be used as a generic term for a white, crumbly cheese aged in brine. The Greeks argued that the term should be protected as a name of origin – similar to champagne, port, or parmesan cheese. They made their case by stating that feta cheese has been prepared in Greece for centuries by using specific cheesemaking techniques. Therefore, its distinct flavor is deeply connected and intertwined with Greek cuisine and culture.
Furthermore, the Greeks stated that only cheese made in Greece according to the traditional methods should bear the name “feta”. They also pointed out that the cheese produced in countries like the US, Australia and Denmark had almost nothing in common with Greek feta, except that both were type of cheese. The feta-style cheese produced outside of Greece was made purely with cow’s milk, which as a result gave it a very different texture and flavor in comparison to traditional Greek feta.
The Decision – Victory for Greece
Finally in 2002, after several years of battle in the courtroom, the European Commission came to a decision to enlist feta cheese as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product. Since then, many cheese producing companies outside of Greece had to rename their products to adhere the newly established rules. For example, the cheese previously known as Yorkshire feta changed its name to Fine Fettle Yorkshire. On the other hand, different cheese brands reached an agreement with the Greek government to keep their rights of producing feta cheese under that name.
How is Feta Cheese Eaten?
Feta cheese is compatible with a number of dishes. It can be eaten fresh or crumbled in a salad. You could have it cubed or sliced and in a wrap, eaten in a pastry, or even baked. The possibilities are truly endless!
Feta Cheese Salads
The probably isn’t a soul alive that hasn’t heard of the famous Greek salad. Its key ingredient? You guessed it – feta cheese! The combination of juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, onions and olives with the feta on top is definitely one of our go-to meals on a hot summer day.
But you don’t have to be too traditional. There are many other feta cheese salads that use different vegetables to those found in a traditional Greek salad. This earthy beetroot salad is definitely one to try. And if you’d like some more protein, be sure to give this Greek salad with grilled chicken a go.
Another traditional Greek dish that uses feta cheese is the yummy spanakopita. Spanakopita is a type of pie with layers of phyllo pastry and a filling made of spinach, feta cheese, onions and different seasonings. It can be enjoyed on its own, but our personal favorite is with some Greek yogurt on the side. Because there’s no such thing as too much Greek food!
If you feel the need to indulge in some carbs (no judging here!), feta cheese is often incorporated in different pizzas and pastas. Take this feta cheese pasta for example – it’s easy to make, it doesn’t require a lot of time and is super satisfying. Another feta cheese pasta that we are in love with is made with shrimp. So if you’re looking for a true Mediterranean experience, be sure to try it out!
Believe us when we say that all these recipes we’ve listed are just a teeny tiny island in the ocean of feta cheese versatility. It can be used with baked stuffed peppers and tomatoes, different wraps and sandwiches and omelets and quiches.
Feta Cheese Substitutes
Traditional Greek feta can sometimes be hard to find in your local grocery store. That’s why we thought it would be a good idea to find some feta cheese alternatives. Don’t tell Greece, though!
The first one is definitely goat’s cheese. This one is a pretty obvious choice since original feta is usually made with goat’s milk. They also have a similar texture and that distinct tangy flavor. Another one is ricotta cheese. It too crumbles very well and it has a nice saltiness to it, which may remind you of feta cheese. And our personal favorite is halloumi cheese. While it’s not a direct replacement, its salty flavor can be a great addition to any Mediterranean dish.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for some plant-based substitutes for feta, we’ve also got some great recommendations. Tofu, for example, is a very common vegan substitute for it. When crumbled, extra firm tofu can have a similar texture and can work well with salads, wraps and sandwiches. Vegan feta cheese is also a good choice, especially since it’s widely available in stores. And you can also make it by yourself. Nut-based cheeses, such as almond cheese or cashew cheese can also be used as dairy-free alternatives to feta.
And there you have it – some crucial information about feta, with a ton of recipe recommendations. No matter how you choose to use feta in your daily life, it definitely ramps up the flavor of…well…basically everything!