How to buy feta cheese like a Greek

June 29, 2012

This post was a bit difficult to write in the sense that when you have been eating feta since you were a baby like I have, you just know what is good feta and what is bad feta and so putting certain rules on how to choose it seems a bit unnatural to me. But there are certain things you need to know, especially if you are new to feta.

First I need to say that Greeks know their cheese; several statistics place the Greeks as the highest consumers of cheese in the world (French come second). Yes, it appears that the average Greek consumes about 50-65 pounds (23-30 kg) of cheese a year. Blame it on the feta; at least half of that cheese consumed is feta.

So here are some points to keep in mind when choosing feta.

Rule #1
Make sure it only contains sheep’s milk (and maybe some goat’s milk), rennet and salt. It should not contain anything else nor should it contain cow’s milk. Feta made with cow’s milk can crumble easily (that’s not a good thing), may develop a sour taste and does not leave a pleasant aftertaste. Also it is more likely to become mushy and have a bad odor.

Rule #2

Look for feta made in Greece-it’s the only one that is real feta. I’ve been reading all sorts of articles, wrongly describing feta as a white, salty cheese made in different parts of world with different types of milk and various countries claiming ownership. As I mentioned in the previous post, feta is Greek and it is acknowledged as that by the European Commission due to a variety of factors. If you want feta, choose Greek, if you want some sort of salty white cheese-you can choose something else.

Rule #3
Taste it. If you have the luxury of being able to taste the cheese before you buy it, than do so. There are 3 different types of feta based on the texture: hard, medium-hardness and soft.  There are also different aromas: some are saltier, some are spicy and some are mild. This all depends on what area and in what kind of container the feta is matured. Most Greek people have a favorite feta and they always buy that one. But you can also use different types of feta for different recipes. For example feta for a cheese pie- tyropita maybe a bit saltier -I’ll talk about how to eat and how to use feta in the next post.

Rule #4
Feta should be white-not yellowish. If it is a bit yellow, that means that the cheese has been exposed to air outside of the brine.

Rule #5
Feta should have a tangy flavor and a rich aroma. It should not taste bitter, sour, rancid, chalky, tasteless.

Rule #6
It should have a few tiny holes on the surface.

Once you get your hands on some good feta, check out this article for yummy ways to use it.

Some comments:
*I often read that pregnant women should avoid feta because it is made from unpasteurized milk, this is not true, almost all feta on the market (Greek) is pasteurized.
* You may find the fact of cheese sitting in this milky salt water not very appetizing, but it is necessary to keep it from going bad.

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23 Comments

  • Reply What is Feta Cheese and why is it Greek? | Olive Tomato June 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    […] So if you are trying to incorporate nutritional components of the Greek Mediterranean diet and gain the health benefits, you need to eat food that resembles as closely as possible the original product and not imitations made with different ingredients. IN MY NEXT POST: How to choose feta. […]

  • Reply 19 delicious ways to use feta cheese | Olive Tomato July 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    […] cheese July 2, 2012Think feta is just for Greek salads? Think again. As I mentioned in the previous post Greeks are the highest consumers of cheese, with feta making up over half of the cheese consumed. […]

  • Reply “Blessed are the cheese-makers…..” September 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    […] further reading on the ins and outs of feta, this is an interesting article: https://www.olivetomato.com/how-to-choose-feta-cheese-like-a-greek/ Tagged with: food • magazine […]

  • Reply Tomato-Feta-Greek Yogurt Phyllo Tart | Olive Tomato June 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    […] So for this tart, I had a bunch of small tomatoes from Crete which are very red and taste wonderful. They are called acorn (velanidi in Greek) tomatoes, because of their shape, so they are not exactly cherry tomatoes. The cheese filling is a combination of yogurt, feta and mint. When you taste this it’s like eating a nice cheese pie (tiropita) but without all that phyllo. Make sure you get good feta and not the yucky, chalky kind-find out how to pick good feta by reading this post. […]

  • Reply Gina July 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I believe the last point may be misleading – doctors tell pregnant women to avoid soft cheeses due to Listeria bacteria, which can thrive even with pasteurization and processing as do a lot of bacteria that needs moisture. Hard cheeses have enough salt and moisture that it’s not really a hazard. Soft cheeses, they say, have more risk.

    As a foodie, I’m not sure if I’d ever give up foods or food groups when pregnant, and who knows – maybe it would boost up the immune system, but I can see why people avoid it.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD July 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Gina, thanks for your comment. Yes, it can certainly be difficult to avoid certain foods during pregnancy, especially when you are a foodie! In the case of listeria, it is killed by pasteurization and cooking, so it would not be present in cheese made with pasteurized milk, regardless if it was soft or hard. But it is assumed that most soft cheeses do not use pasteurized milk, which is not the case with feta. You can check with the CDC, cdc.gov for more information on the different types of bacteria that are present in food.

    • Reply Nick Pantazis July 22, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      I’m not a doctor, but I’m Greek. Don’t know which is worst )). Well okay, my mother and my wife ate feta daily when they were pregnant. As a result, I have 4 brothers and 2 children!

      • Reply Elena Paravantes RD August 2, 2013 at 10:12 am

        Ha ha! Great point Nick!

  • Reply Susan Narayan February 6, 2014 at 1:01 am

    I lived in Turkey for three years. Just returned last year. One of my favorite foods there had “white cheese” (beyaz peynir) in it. This cheese is, obviously, white, and it is salty and crumbly. When I asked Turkish people who had visited Greece about Greek food, they told me with admiration that “It is the same food.”

    I never got over to Greece, but that country is high on my list of places to visit. My question is: Is Greek “feta” cheese like Turkish “white cheese?” Or is it like American feta cheese, which I am not fond of?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD February 6, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Hi Susan,
      Thanks for the question.
      It is a different cheese, although yes there are many similarities. In the production the beyaz penir is soaked in a vegetable coagulant rather than rennet. I find the taste of beyaz penir less salty and spicy than feta.
      No Greek feta is not like American feta which is usually made of cow’s milk, real feta is made from sheep’s milk (or a combination goat and sheep’s). Feta is a protected product in the European Union, so only feta made in Greece can be named and sold as feta, you can read more about it here: https://www.olivetomato.com/what-is-feta-and-why-is-it-greek/
      By the way you can find Greek (made in Greece) feta in the U.S.

  • Reply Raspberries and Cheese for Dessert - Make It Like a Man! November 9, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    […] feta should be hard-to-medium, not very crumbly, and not made from cow’s […]

  • Reply Jeff the Chef November 12, 2015 at 3:30 am

    Thanks for this article. I was looking for a feta to pair with some fruit, and your article pointed me in exactly the right direcftion.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD November 21, 2015 at 7:35 am

      Great, glad you found it!

    • Reply KitKat March 29, 2016 at 7:07 am

      I like my feta in watermelon salad
      Especially in summer
      Very refreshing and delicious

    • Reply Breffni April 19, 2016 at 3:32 am

      I find the French (excuse me) sheeps milk feta at whole foods to be consistently the best I can find no offense to Grece.

  • Reply Elgora February 16, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Haha! Am I the only one of Hellenic nationality who is eating feta while reading this XD?

  • Reply Xrissa February 22, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Any brands sold in the US that you can recommend? I was sad to learn Athens brand is cows milk

    • Reply Laura S. May 31, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      I live quite rural in the US and the only feta I will eat is Vigo brand. It’s made with sheep’s milk and Publix supermarkets carries it. It cost more than the others but it is worth every penny.

      • Reply Laura S. May 31, 2017 at 3:09 pm

        I guess I should have stated that it’s the only sheep’s milk feta I can find around here.

  • Reply Konstantinos March 30, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    And also remember one thing: Everything tastes better with feta…

  • Reply Getting Cheesy with Spicy Feta Spread - Erin Dishes Nutrition August 14, 2016 at 3:55 pm

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  • Reply Miquel October 9, 2016 at 9:31 pm

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  • Reply Baked Feta with Hot Peppers | Olive Tomato August 18, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    […] no such thing as feta made from cows milk. For a detailed guide on how to buy good feta check this article. […]

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