Feta (Greek Φέτα, féta, "slice") is a brined curd white cheese made in Greece from sheep's milk or from a mixture of sheep and goat's milk. It is a crumbly aged cheese, commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture. Feta is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads (e.g. the Greek salad) and pastries. Most notable is its use in the popular phyllo-based dishes spanakopita ("spinach pie") and tyropita ("cheese pie"), or served with some olive oil or olives and sprinkled with aromatic herbs such as oregano. It can also be served cooked or grilled, as part of a sandwich, in omelettes, or as a salty alternative to other cheeses in a variety of dishes.
|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|
|Related media on Wikimedia Commons|
|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 Nutrient Database
Since 2002, feta has been a protected designation of origin product in the European Union. According to the relevant EU legislation, 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. However, similar white, brined cheeses (often called "white cheese" in various languages) are made traditionally in the Eastern Mediterranean and around the Black Sea and more recently elsewhere, often partly or wholly of cow's milk, and they are sometimes also called feta.
Feta is a soft brined white cheese with small or no holes, a compact touch, few cuts, and no skin. It is usually formed into large blocks, which are submerged in brine. Its flavor is tangy and salty, ranging from mild to sharp. Its maximum moisture is 56%, its minimum fat content in dry matter is 43%, and its pH usually ranges from 4.4 to 4.6. 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 saleable, 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 traveler to Crete
The earliest references to cheese production in Greece date from the 8th century BC: the technology to make cheese from sheep's or goat's milk described in Homer's Odyssey (involving the contents of Polyphemus's cave) is similar to that used by Greek shepherds today to produce feta. Cheese made from sheep's or goat's milk was a common food in ancient Greece and an integral component of later Greek gastronomy. Feta cheese specifically is first recorded in the Byzantine Empire (Poem on Medicine 1.209) under the name prósphatos (Greek: πρόσφατος, "recent" or "fresh"), and was produced by the Cretans and the Vlachs of Thessaly. 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 word fetta ("slice"), which in turn is derived from the Latin word offa ("a morsel", "piece"). It was introduced into the Greek language in the 17th century, became a widespread term in the 19th century, and probably refers to the practice of slicing cheese in order to place the slices into barrels.
After a long legal battle with Denmark, which produced a cheese under the same name using chemically blanched cow's milk, the term "feta" became a protected designation of origin (PDO) 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 Lesvos and Cephalonia.
In 2013, an agreement was reached with Canada in which feta made in Canada would be called “Feta style/type cheese” cheese, and would not depict on the label anything evoking Greece. Canadian companies using the "feta" name before October 2013 can continue to do so.
According to the 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.
Feta cheese, along with other traditional Greek dairy products, contains numerous probiotics: Lactobacillus casei, L. paracasei, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, L. coryneformis, Lactobacillus curvatus, L. brevis, L. buchneri, Enterococcus faecalis, E. durans, Pediococcus pentosaceus, P. acidilactici, Leuconostoc lactis, Ln. paramesebteroides and Ln dextranicum.
Feta, as a sheep dairy product, contains up to 1.9% Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which corresponds to 0.8% of its fat content. Feta, like other dairy products, is also a source of calcium and phosphorus which have been shown to contribute to better bone health..
Similar cheeses can be found in other countries:
- Albania (djathë i bardhë or djathë i Gjirokastrës)
- Azerbaijan (ağ pendir, lit. "white cheese")
- Bosnia (Travnički/Vlašički sir, lit. cheese made on Vlasic/Travnik - Vlašićki sir)
- Bulgaria (бяло сирене, bjalo sirene, lit. white cheese)
- Canada (feta style cheese, or simply feta for those companies producing the cheese prior to October 2013)
- Czech Republic (balkánský sýr, lit. "Balkan cheese")
- Egypt (domiati)
- Finland (salaattijuusto, salad cheese)
- Georgia (ყველი, kveli, lit. cheese)
- Germany (Schafskäse, sheep cheese)
- Iran (Lighvan Cheese; پنیر لیقوان panīr-e līghvān')
- Israel (gvina bulgarit, lit. Bulgarian cheese)
- Italy (casu 'e fitta Sardinia)
- Lebanon (gibneh bulgharieh, lit. Bulgarian cheese)
- Netherlands (schapenkaas, sheep cheese")
- North Macedonia (сирење, sirenje)
- Palestine and Jordan (Nabulsi cheese; جبنة نابلسية, and Akkawi; عكاوي)
- Poland (bryndza)
- Romania (brânză telemea)
- Russia (брынза, brynza)
- Serbia (сир,брнза sir)
- Slovakia (Balkánsky syr, lit. "Balkan cheese")
- Spain (Queso de Burgos, lit. "Burgos cheese")
- Sudan (gibna beyda, lit. white cheese)
- Turkey (beyaz peynir, lit. white cheese)
- Ukraine (бринза, brynza)
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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.
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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.
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