Traditionally feta is made with sheep’s milk, or from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. You might find an exhausting amount of feta on supermarket shelves from various parts of the world, however it is a protected “designation of origin” product in the European Union. True artisan feta is from Greece. Nevertheless other white-brined cheeses or “Greek-style” feta from outside of Greece are made with various mixtures of milk including cow’s. I prefer goat and sheep’s milk feta that has a funky barnyard flavor versus generic tasting cow’s milk feta. I attest to the real thing from Greece.
(not so good feta galore in a supermarket, where's the real deal?)
In the feta making process, cheese curds are pressed into rectangular shaped molds with holes to drain excess whey. After a day the logs are salted and air-dried for up to three days and then brined. Old-fashioned feta is traditionally not brined at all actually, but is simply salted and aged. These days, to speed things up Greek feta is brined in liquid for a minimum of two months and often up to seven months, which gives it the salty signature character. Paradoxically, feta gets drier the longer it is brined in liquid. Sometimes feta is aged in beech and birch wood barrels in it’s own juices which lends it additional woodsy characteristics, a nice treat. For longer aged feta cheeses, it is recommended that they be rinsed with plain water to remove excessive saltiness.
I favor the signature zingy, salty feta flavor on salads, in combination with gamey lamb or sprinkled on a house-made pizza or small meze bites on psomi (Greek bread). If you marinate feta in a bit of extra virgin olive oil and lemon thyme or oregano, and serve alongside a variation of olives you’re off to a great pre dinner snack already. You can even grill feta. Personally I always found it odd to grill cheese but feta makes it a success; it adds welcome flavor and a softened texture to dishes like Dorade (you might know it under the name sea bream). I remember an entree of grilled leg of lamb and peaches with fire-charred feta – a big hit on our menu in the midst of summer.
(rack of lamb and feta grilling over open flame)
Currently, farmer’s markets have an abundance of local cucumbers, corn and tomatoes which are a perfect canvas for crumbled feta – Kai Orexi/Enjoy!
(recipe yields four portions)
2 ears corn
2 plum tomatoes
3 ounces feta
4 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
black pepper millings
sea salt, to taste
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Shuck corn and cut the kernels off the cob with a chef’s knife.
- Cut core cap of tomato. Cut tomatoes into four wedges and across into small cubes.
- Peel cucumber, cut in half and remove seeds with a small spoon. Cut cucumber across into 1/2-inch wide slices.
- Rinse parsley with water then dry in a salad spinner or on kitchen paper towels. Chop parsley with a chef’s knife.
- For the dressing, mix vinegar and salt with a wire whisk then slowly add oil.
- In a large bowl toss the cut vegetables then add the dressing.
- Place the salad onto four plates and crumble feta over it. Season the salads with freshly ground pepper from the mill.
(tasty greek salad)
Compared to cows, goats and sheep are raised in a less industrialized way; meaning antibiotic and growth hormones are more conservatively used. Look for feta or any cheese that indicates “no-synthetic” growth hormones added and “no-antibiotics use” on the label. It’s a strong selling point.