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so much feta, so little knowledge

  • m

So, I went to my neighborhood greek grocery... well, one of them (I live in Astoria, NY, so-called largest population of Greek folk outside of Athens), in search of Feta cheese knowing fullwell that I know just about nothing about it aside from its yummy. So I tell the guy 'sharp' and he gives me something and its wonderful, but what about all those other kinds?? and whats the difference? and what are its uses aside from cut-off-put-in-mouth? Anyone feeling like giving me a Feta lesson?

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  1. i'm no expert, but i'll take a whack at a simple explanation. true feta is a goat's milk cheese. it's slightly lower in calories and fat than cow's milk or sheep's milk cheese (the highest). greek feta should be salty, ask for the liquid for storage, AFTER they weigh it. i've had fabulous, delicately flavored french and 'mediterranean'(?) fetas at stores like whole foods . i'm not sure they are goats milk, and are not as salty. domestic feta is, in my experience, less expensive but always cows milk cheese and pretty forgettable.
    here's one of my favorite sandwiches. take a thick slice of really chewy bread. spread a little mayo, sprinkle a little fresh dill. top with crumbled or thinly sliced greek feta (too bland with domestic). then sprinkle on pine nuts (or walnuts if that's what you've got). a grind of fresh pepper, and pop it under the broiler till the cheese gets soft and the nuts brown. watch carefully so it doesnt burn. i first had this at the late, lamented Urbis Orbis coffee house in chicago. they often burned it around the edges. make sure the cheese covers all the bread. bon appetit. joan

    10 Replies
    1. re: joan

      your recipe reminds me of a great melted feta with dried oregano in pita I used to get for lunch years ago.

      Another combo that works well is to finely dice tomato, dill and feta a sprinkle on top of a quiche. You can serve it cold or melted. I call it feta salsa.

      1. re: tigerwoman

        opps - forgot to add fine dice of red onion

        so it's feta, tomato, dill and red onion "salsa"

        1. re: tigerwoman

          Dodonis brand which is made in Northwestern Greece
          (Epirus) is probably the best commercial readily
          available brand. In NYC Fairway and Key Food carry
          the prepacked 200gr packages.
          Barrel(today its plastic not wood anymore) and
          Tinned feta are different types with tinned being
          made from yeast instead of rennin which gives it
          a creamier taste.
          In Astoria go to Titan Foods underneath the el
          They usually have about six different barrel varieties
          among other types. Ask to taste (its a greek tradition)
          Cows milk and feta dont go
          There's a small dairy in upstate NY (the name escapes me) that makes a good very hard goats milk feta
          Good for grating like hard ricotta

          1. re: byrd

            I am pleased to say that my local Costco sells Dodonis. I have been buying it there for the past two years. It is a great feta.

        2. re: tigerwoman

          opps - forgot to add fine dice of red onion

          so it's feta, tomato, dill and red onion "salsa"

        3. re: joan

          I like to make a similar sandwich....

          Pita, with sliced or crumbled feta, roasted red peppers, a good garlic-y aioli, and watercress. I don't like it heated, though. Yum!

          1. re: LB

            Oh, and walnuts too...that's *essential!*

            1. re: LB

              Speaking of walnuts and feta....

              For an easy dessert, I like pears halves from Trader Joe's, topped with some walnuts and feta cheese. Delicious!

          2. re: joan

            Your explanation is slightly incorrect. "True" feta (as you put it) is made either from sheeps or goats milk. Unless otherwise specified, most imported feta are made from sheeps milk. When I was working in a cheese store in SF a decade ago, the only goat's milk feta was coming from New Zealand. There are more varieties of feta available nowadays, so my info might not include some that you may have seen at the stores. Bulgarian feta has been considered the premium feta for a long time, and to me, it has a great creamy consistency and a nice sharp tanginess that's unmatched by other fetas I've tried. That said, there were at least two or three varieties of feta from Greece we were selling, but my memory deserts me about the distinctions between those, except that it ranged from tangy to mild while retaining a crumbly texture. I also liked the French feta for something milder with a creamy texture (I remember the brand Valbreso for this). Stay away from domestic fetas as much as possible.

            1. re: Eric Eto

              I love the French Valbreso feta. Great texture and the salt is not too intense. Great for eating straight up or with a fizzle of good evoo. I've used it in a watermelon/feta dish. Delicate to go well with fruit

          3. j
            Janet A. Zimmerman

            Traditionally, feta is made from either goat or sheep's milk. Greek and Bulgarian fetas are stronger than French, which is still (usually) stronger than domestic. Because feta is stored in brine, it's very salty and thus marries well with ingredients that are slightly sweet or acidic. A great salad is roasted or boiled beets, sliced and tossed in a vinaigrette with feta and mint. Use walnut oil in the dressing and a few toasted walnuts for an even more decadent version. You can make a good pasta salad with artichoke hearts, mixed cherry tomatoes and feta (it goes great with tomatoes) -- extras can include a little chopped red onion and greek olives. Add some chicken or shrimp for a main dish salald. And of course feta is essential in Greek salad.

            1. I feel it's rather difficult to find great feta: even in Greece there are so many awful feta, so it's important to taste before you buy. Bad feta can be made palatable by cooking. Stuff roasted pimentos with feta, scatter with a lot of chopped parsley and sliced garlic. Drizzle with some olive oil and bake in slow to moderate oven until tender and flavour has blended.

              7 Replies
              1. re: naoko

                Steve "The Cheese Primer" Jenkins said in the aformetioned books that "consistency is a problem in Greek cheeses" and for the most part, I agree with him. That applies whether you are after Feta, Kefalotyri, Manouri or Haloumi (Yes I know that techically Haloumi is Cypriot, not Greek, but a lot of it is made in Greece now, and you usually find it in Greek markets, so it's sort of "honorary greek") Taste everything you can.
                It's probably as far from the norm as you can get, but if you are in upstate New York, Lively Run dairy (the people who make Cayuga Blue) make a goat's milk "creamy feta" that is REALLY creamy (basically it's extra salted chevre) a bit odd, but it can be nice to have if you want a feta like cheese you can spread or if you want to mix it an plain to get "normal" chevre (a lot of the Lively run cheeses are seriosly under-salted)

                1. re: jumpingmonk

                  I'm looking at my Primer and I don't see that quote; what page? The only direct reference to texture that I can find is to the effect that Steve tends to find Bulgarian feta creamier, less sheepy, and less salty than feta from other countries (I'd have to concur but then I'm not a big feta fan). He also thinks it's a good idea to rinse feta before consuming it.

                  BTW, sheep is most traditional; goat less so.

                  1. re: MacGuffin

                    Page 466 column 2 near the bottom, in the section on Kasseri. And he did not mean "cosistency" in the sense of texture; he meant it in the sense of "reliability, a tendency to be similar from batch to batch"

                    1. re: jumpingmonk

                      Ah! Complaining about the texture of an entire country's cheese output, especially given that he sells cheese from that country, just didn't sound like him; thanks for the page number.

                      BTW, that might not be true anymore. The Primer's pretty old (I wish he'd expand it with updates).

                      1. re: MacGuffin

                        Well, I certainly will agree with you that the guide is incredibly out of date and in desperate need of an update (though a similar work by someone of equal experiance would be fine as well). Speaking from personal expieriance, I will certinaly say that with a lot of Greek cheeses, the taste of ostensibly the same cheese varies wildly from brand to brand. Of course all cheeses vary quite a bit from brand to brand (and for handmade ones, even from cheese to cheese) But that for many of the Greeks is particulary pronounced. I certinly would never buy a wedge from a cut for me unless I could take a taste first, so I can tell if it's the nutty kind (like a good basque sheep cheese) or the super sharp kind (like low grade romano, and with the smell and taste I have always equated with acetone.) and out of the dozen or so brands of Kefalotyri I know of, I only will by two, buying massive quantities when I stumble across them and storing it (one of the few good things about most of the hard greek cheeses, is that, between the salt content and the vaccum sealing most of the pre cut pecies will actually keep a very long time without noticable damage, and kefalotyri will actuall freeze with little damage (it's gets a litt crumbly but otherwise it stays the same). My local Mediterrenean supermaket is rather suprised by my insistence on certin brands (to them Keflaotyri is Kefalotyri is Kefalotyri) I have similar criteria for Haloumi 20 or so brand I know of one I really like. )

                        1. re: jumpingmonk

                          This is going to sound like heresy but the only Greek cheese I'd go out of my way to buy is manouri. My former in-laws were Israeli and I was feta-ed and kashkaval-ed to death (they weren't even Romanian) while I was married and even so, on the very rare occasion that I buy it, it's invariably Bulgarian. I buy a lot of cheese, most of it from Fairway, but Balkan cheeses have never grabbed me in a big way.

                          1. re: MacGuffin

                            Well to each thier own. I personally find manouri a little bland for eating (though I do use it in some cooking Incidentally, if you are fond of manouri, if you ever bump into mizytha you may want to try it. Functionally it's sort of what you get if you take manouri and age it up a little, and (at least in my opinion) is a much more interesting table cheese.

              2. I've really enjoyed a Corsican feta from my local cheese store (Berkeley) --- salty but not too much so, and a good cross between crumbly/creamy.
                Feta and melon salad --- ripe ripe orange melon, crumbled feta, fresh ground black pepper, olive oil.
                Baked feta (made with a feta that is not too soft --- the feta shouldn't completely melt): an inch-thick piece of feta, topped with delicious fresh tomatoes, sprinkled with dried oregano, black pepper, olive oil and a little squirt of lemon, wrapped in foil and baked at 350 degrees about 20 minutes. Eat immediately with bread.
                Crumbled feta mixed with high-quality Greek-style yogurt (drained for a bit, preferably), generously spread on a warmed pita (steaming pita, wrapped in foil, is a great way to warm and soften it). Top with thickly sliced tomato, a drizzle of olive oil, a generous sprinkle of very fragrant dried mint, and black pepper. Yum!

                1 Reply
                1. re: foodfirst

                  where is this cheese store? THE Cheese Store? Thanks! :-)

                2. Here's a link with lots of info re feta:

                  Link: http://www.triaina.com/ffg/greek_food...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Nancy Berry

                    Well cool, thanks all!
                    great tips :)