Fundamental feta facts everyone should know
From Aussie marinade to Greek traditionalism, there's a variety of this cheese out there just for you.
Which feta do you fancy? A creamy, mellow Israeli variety, perfect for melting on pizza or topping your tacos? Perhaps the tangier Bulgarian persuasion, made from sheep's milk and yogurt cultures? Or maybe you're a feta purist, preferring to stick with the original Greek version that started it all?
Indeed, they might all look similar, but not all feta is created equal. And with so many choices, it can be hard to sort it all out. Let us help! We've broken down a few fundamental feta facts to help you make the best selection for your taste and texture preferences. And after that, we share our own recipes, courtesy of From The Grapevine's exclusive Israeli Kitchen food channel, to put your newfound feta knowledge to perfect use.
Authentic Bulgarian feta is made from sheep's milk and carries the same saltiness as Greek feta, but its texture is more versatile and forgiving. Huffington Post food writer Rebecca Orchant likens it to a "creamy cheese blanket," which somehow makes us simultaneously hungry and ready for naptime.
"Bulgarian feta somehow manages to be a very firm cheese, which crumbles pleasantly and just how you’d expect," Orchant writes. "But once broken down, tossed throughout a dish, pureed into a dip, or however you decide to treat it, the cheese softens into the dish ... [it] applies itself deliciously to simple salads where it can be the star."
If you're a bit noncommittal when it comes to cheese selection, you might want to try something from down under. Australian feta is usually marinated – Yarra Valley Dairy outside Melbourne, for example, makes a feta that's infused with thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic – and is heavily influenced by the Greek cheesemaking tradition. It's usually packaged in olive oil, so the result is a creamy, gooey cheese that's just waiting for a crusty bread accompaniment.
Shakshouka is a traditional Mediterranean breakfast with eggs, tomatoes and cheese. (Photo: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock)
Next time you find yourself perusing the aisles of your local Trader Joe's, mosey on over to the cheese section and look for a brand called Pastures of Eden. This is Israeli feta, a pasteurized sheep's milk cheese that's been brined for about a month before distribution in stores. Texture-wise, according to San Francisco Chronicle writer Janet Fletcher, it's "moist, creamy and sliceable, not as crumbly as some feta." It lacks much of the tang of Greek feta, and it's a bit more appealing for people who shy away from strong, pungent flavors. Use it in your next shakshouka, a popular hot breakfast in Israel.
Also known as Danish white, this variation is a creamier and smoother version of Greek feta that is often used in salads and holds up remarkably well over a grill. It's usually made from cow's milk. You can find it plain if you look hard enough, and it works great in a marinade, too (read more about marinating below).
Somewhere in the French cheesemonger diaries, there must have been an old merchant who had a bunch of extra sheep's milk left over from his previous Roquefort batch. He didn't know what to do with it, so like any good European, he repurposed it. And there you have it: French feta. It's mild and creamy, but make no mistake: this stuff packs a significant flavor punch.
Greek feta aka the original feta
Feta cheese is a staple of Greek cuisine. (Photo: Robyn Mackenzie / Shutterstock)
Is it all Greek to you? Some people prefer just sticking with the tried-and-true original. If you live in Europe, Greek feta is the only acceptable feta. No imitations allowed. But this is America, after all. We like to expand our horizons, especially when it comes to food. Rules? What rules?
The official composition of traditional Greek feta is 70% sheep's milk, 30% goat's milk, give or take a few percentage points. You can find it virtually anywhere cheese is sold. And when you use it in recipes, you'll find that you don't need a lot of it to enhance the flavor of your dishes. It's salty, tangy and dry, and we just love to crumble it over our favorite foods.
How to marinate your own feta
Our suggestion for the perfect marinade is to infuse your olive oil with a special garlic and herb blend, then place your feta in a bag with the olive oil and let it sit overnight. Add olives, capers, any spices you fancy – even a hot pepper or two. It will keep in the fridge for about two weeks, provided you haven't eaten it all by then.
Our favorite feta recipes:
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