Did you know that Greeks are among the highest consumers of cheese in the world? Per person the average Greek consumes about 23 kilograms of cheese a year. Why? The answer is feta. Feta cheese that is. Half of that cheese consumed is feta. Yes, Greeks love and know their feta.
What is Feta?
Feta is a brined cheese (it is placed in a brine solution) that is made either only from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat milk. It is aged in the brine minimally 2 months, but the good feta will be aged 12 months.
Feta is a cheese that is a Protected Designation of Origin product (P.D.O.) in the European Union. That means that only feta made in specific areas of Greece with a specific method can be called “feta”. Unlike in the U.S. where you find many cheeses called feta even if they are not Greek, or made traditionally or even with the right ingredients. For one, you often see “feta” made with cow’s milk, which is a big no-no. Feta made with cow’s milk can sour easily, develop a mushy texture, crumble easily (not in a good way) and have an unpleasant aftertaste.
What Does Feta Taste Like?
Feta has a tangy, rich and slightly salty flavor. The more aged it is is the more “peppery” and hard it is. Feta made mostly with sheep’s milk will have a more rich buttery flavor, while goat cheese makes the cheese harder and milder in flavor. Although a brined cheese, it has many characteristics of a “fresh” cheese.
Is Feta Healthy?
Feta has an intense flavor and you can use less of it with good results, it is naturally lower in fat by weight from other cheeses because it has a high water content, it is also generally lower in calories than other intense flavored cheeses. It is a good source of calcium, phosphorus and protein. Contrary to what you have heard, most feta available for sale in the super market is made from pasteurized cheese (not unpasteurized).
How to Eat Feta
Feta is so versatile, that it tastes great almost anywhere it is added.
• Eat alongside a vegetable based dish.
• Add it to fresh salads. Feta is a perfect accompaniment to tomato but also goes well with all sorts of greens including lettuce, fresh spinach but also beets.
• Combine it with meats and cook it in the oven.
• Smash it with a fork until creamy and use it as a spread in sandwiches.
• Use it as a topping for pizza or bruschetta.
• Make a sandwich using sliced feta, oregano and olive oil.
• Bake feta along with some peppers for a spicy appetizer.
*For more tips and ideas on using feta click here.
How to Store Feta
Feta should be stored in a brine solution, otherwise it will go bad quickly. You can make your own brine, by adding 2-3 ounces of salt to 1 liter (about 4 cups) of water. Make sure the Feta is completely covered in the solution. Keep in a closed container. It can last like this for about 6 months. Feta that is not stored this way, especially crumbled feta will last only a week (tip: do not buy crumbled feta).
*For tips and information on how to buy good feta click here
What Makes Feta so Important to Greeks?
Well, it is not only an accompaniment to a dish, or consumed after the meal like the French, it is actually part of the whole meal. In the same way that bread is present at every meal, feta is also present. As the traditional Greek diet is rich in vegetable based dishes, feta served as the protein to those dishes. In addition, the freshness and tanginess of the cheese balanced out the richness of olive oil in which these vegetable dishes were cooked. But feta manages to find its way as an accompaniment to almost every single other food too: meats, beans and fruit. The only thing they usually will not eat it with is fish.
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Photos by Elena Paravantes, © 2018 All Rights Reserved