|Country of origin||Greece|
|Source of milk||Sheep (≥70%) and goat per PDO; similar cheeses may contain cow or buffalo milk|
|Pasteurized||Depends on variety|
|Texture||Depends on variety|
|Aging time||min. 3 months|
Feta (Greek: φέτα, féta) is a Greek brined curd white cheese made from sheep's milk or from a mixture of sheep and goat's milk. It is a soft, brined white cheese with small or no holes, a compact touch, few cuts, and no skin. It is formed into large blocks, and aged in brine. Its flavor is tangy and salty, ranging from mild to sharp. It is crumbly and has a slightly grainy texture. Feta is used as a table cheese, in salads such as Greek salad, and in pastries, notably the phyllo-based Greek dishes spanakopita ("spinach pie") and tyropita ("cheese pie"). It is often served with olive oil or olives, and sprinkled with aromatic herbs such as oregano. It can also be served cooked (often grilled), as part of a sandwich, in omelettes, and many other dishes.
Since 2002, feta has been a protected designation of origin in the European Union. EU legislation limits the name feta to cheeses produced in the traditional way in particular areas of Greece, which are made from sheep's milk, or from a mixture of sheep's and up to 30% of goat's milk from the same area.
Similar white, brined cheeses (often called "white cheese" in various languages) are made traditionally in the Mediterranean and around the Black Sea, and more recently elsewhere. Outside the EU, the name feta is often used generically for these cheeses.
For many consumers, the word "feta" is a generic term for a white, crumbly cheese aged in brine. Production of the cheese first began in the Eastern Mediterranean and around the Black Sea. Over time, production has expanded to countries including Denmark, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, often partly or wholly of cow's milk, and they are sometimes also called feta.
Since 2002, within the European Union, feta has been a protected designation of origin product. According to the relevant EU legislation (applicable within the EU) only those cheeses produced in a traditional way in particular areas of Greece, which are made from sheep's milk, or from a mixture of sheep's and up to 30% of goat's milk from the same area, can be called feta.
The EU PDO for feta requires a maximum moisture of 56%, a minimum fat content in dry matter of 43%, and a pH that usually ranges from 4.4 to 4.6. Production of the EU PDO feta is traditionally categorized into firm and soft varieties. The firm variety is tangier and considered higher in quality. The soft variety is almost soft enough to be spreadable, mostly used in pies and sold at a cheaper price. Slicing feta produces some amount of trímma, "crumble", which is also used for pies (not being sellable, trímma is usually given away for free upon request).
High-quality feta should have a creamy texture when sampled, and aromas of ewe's milk, butter, and yoghurt. In the mouth it is tangy, slightly salty, and mildly sour, with a spicy finish that recalls pepper and ginger, as well as a hint of sweetness.
Traditionally (and legally within the EU), feta is produced using only whole sheep's milk, or a blend of sheep's and goat's milk (with a maximum of 30% goat's milk). The milk may be pasteurized or not, but most producers now use pasteurized milk. If pasteurized milk is used, a starter culture of micro-organisms is added to replace those naturally present in raw milk which are killed in pasteurization. These organisms are required for acidity and flavour development.
When the pasteurized milk has cooled to approximately 35 °C (95 °F), rennet is added and the casein is left to coagulate. The compacted curds are then chopped up and placed in a special mould or a cloth bag that allows the whey to drain. After several hours, the curd is firm enough to cut up and salt; salinity will eventually reach approximately 3%, when the salted curds are placed (depending on the producer and the area of Greece) in metal vessels or wooden barrels and allowed to infuse for several days.
After the dry-salting of the cheese is complete, aging or maturation in brine (a 7% salt in water solution) takes several weeks at room temperature and a further minimum of 2 months in a refrigerated high-humidity environment—as before, either in wooden barrels or metal vessels, depending on the producer (the more traditional barrel aging is said to impart a unique flavour). The containers are then shipped to supermarkets where the cheese is cut and sold directly from the container; alternatively blocks of standardized weight are packaged in sealed plastic cups with some brine.
Feta dries relatively quickly even when refrigerated; if stored for longer than a week, it should be kept in brine or lightly salted milk.
Pietro Casola, 15th-century Italian traveller to Crete
Cheese made from sheep and goat milk has been common in the Eastern Mediterranean since ancient times. In Bronze Age Canaan, cheese may have been among the salted foods shipped by sea in ceramic jars, so rennet-coagulated white cheeses similar to feta may have been shipped in brine, but there is no direct evidence for this. In Greece, the earliest documented reference to cheese production dates back to the 8th century BC and the technology used to make cheese from sheep-goat milk is similar to the technology used by Greek shepherds today to produce feta. In the Odyssey, Homer describes how Polyphemus makes cheese though he says nothing about brining; indeed, Polyphemus stored and dried it in wicker racks, perhaps resulting, according to Paul Kindstedt, in a rinded cheese similar to modern pecorino and caprino rather than feta. E. M. Antifantakis and G. Moatsou, on the other hand, find that Polyphemus' cheese was "undoubtedly the ancestor of modern Feta"; origins aside, however, cheese produced from sheep-goat milk was a common food in ancient Greece and an integral component of later Greek gastronomy.
The first unambiguous documentation of preserving cheese in brine appears in Cato the Elder's De Agri Cultura (2nd century BCE) though the practice was surely much older. It is also described in the 10th-century Geoponica. Feta cheese, specifically, is recorded by Psellos in the 11th century under the name prósphatos (Greek πρόσφατος 'recent, fresh'), and was produced by Cretans. In the late 15th century, an Italian visitor to Candia, Pietro Casola, describes the marketing of feta, as well as its storage in brine.
The Greek word feta (φέτα) comes from the Italian fetta 'slice', which in turn is derived from the Latin offa 'morsel, piece'. The word feta became widespread as a name for the cheese only in the 19th century, probably referring to the cheese being cut to pack it in barrels.
Prior to Greece's pursuit of a PDO for its feta, there was long-standing generic use of the term in the EU. After a long legal battle with Denmark, the term "feta" became a protected designation of origin (PDO) within the EU in October 2002—which limits "feta" within the European Union to mean brined cheese made exclusively of sheep's or sheep's and goat's milk in the following regions of Greece: Peloponnese, Central Greece, Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace, and the islands of Lesbos and Cephalonia.
According to the European Commission, the biodiversity of the land coupled with the special breeds of sheep and goats used for milk is what gives feta cheese a specific aroma and flavor. When needed to describe an imitation feta, names such as "salad cheese" and "Greek-style cheese" are used. The European Commission gave other nations five years to find a new name for their feta cheese or stop production. Because of the decision by the European Union, Danish dairy company Arla Foods changed the name of its white cheese products to Apetina, which is also the name of an Arla food brand established in 1991. Producers of feta outside of the European Union, and exporters from the EU to foreign markets, are not subject to the European Commission rules. As such, the non-Greek EU cheese sold abroad is often labeled as feta.
In 2013, an agreement was reached with Canada in which Canadian feta manufacturers retained their rights to continue producing feta while new entrants to the market would label the product "feta-style/type cheese". In other markets such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, full generic usage of the term "feta" continues.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,103 kJ (264 kcal)|
|Vitamin A||422 IU|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Like many dairy products, feta has significant amounts of calcium and phosphorus; however, feta is higher in water and thus lower in fat and calories than aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Cheddar. The cheese may contain beneficial probiotics.
Feta, as a sheep dairy product, contains up to 1.9% conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is about 0.8% of its fat content.
Feta cheese is very high in salt, at over 400 mg sodium per 100 calories.
Similar cheeses can be found in other countries such as:
In October, after a decade-long legal battle in which Greece faced up to dairy giants like Germany, Denmark and France and their versions of white, brined cheese, the organization's European Court awarded Greek feta 'protected designation of origin' status. That designation was created to assure the quality of traditional food products, including prosciutto di Parma, Roquefort cheese and Kalamata olives.
But new Canadian brands of 'feta' will have to call their cheese 'feta-style' or 'imitation feta' and cannot evoke Greece on the label, such as using Greek lettering or an image of ancient Greek columns.