Last week I was in Duck and had an amazing watermelon salad at the Sanderling's Left Bank. I've been craving it ever since and tried to recreate it today. The main problem with my dish was the feta cheese I purchased at Whole Foods -- just too dry and dense. The Left Bank salad had a silky, light feta. Does anyone have recommendations on where to get good feta cheese? I live in Reston, so would prefer western Fairfax/Loudoun.
Domestic feta* is junk. Don't go there. It's made from cow's milk, is dry and tastes like salty cardboard. Real feta is made with sheep's milk. If it you don't see sheep's milk on the label, don't by it.
You want an imported feta. Believe it or not, French feta is amazing. It is creamy, briny, and goat-y without being overwhelmingly so. It's slightly milder than Greek or Bulgarian feta, but much softer/creamier. Despite having grown up on Balkan feta, my parents are now die-hard French Feta converts.
Greek and Bulgarian fetas can vary depending on where they comes from. It's good to ask for a taste at the counter so you can see what you're getting (hard, soft, oversalty, mild, very sheepy, etc). Then you can purchase according to your taste buds' preferences.
A good place will give it to you with some brine. That will keep your cheese good for a long, long time. If you find that the cheese is too salty, you can pitch the brine and just replace it with water---that will leach some of the saltiness out of your cheese. You can also put milk in instead of brine if you want to sweeten the cheese slighlty (de-saltifies it, but also makes it slightly creamier).
I had luck one turning a hard, crumbly chunk of feta into something soft and creamy simply by chance. Mr. Venera wrapped a piece in waxed paper, stuck it in a ziplock bag, and we forgot about it. A month later, we ended up with something much softer than what we started with. It almost had a cream cheese/goat cheese consistency.
Middle eastern stores also tend to carry fetas, so call around. If you do trek up to Prima foods, look for the Bulgarian 1 kg wheel of Kashkaval cheese. It rocks. It's similar to the Greek kefalotiri, the stuff they use for Saganaki. Yum yum. I have seen Mr. Venera cut through that in two days. :)
Watermelon + a hunk of feta + a loaf of warm homemade bread = some of the best summertime dinners you can ever have. The wet/sweet of the watermelon + the briny/sheepy of the feta is an amazing combination.
* I know that there is the whole EU thing about feta only being able to be called feta if it's from Greece, but I'm not in the EU. And we don't really have another common English word for that type of cheese.
"Domestic feta* is junk. Don't go there. It's made from cow's milk, is dry and tastes like salty cardboard. Real feta is made with sheep's milk. If it you don't see sheep's milk on the label, don't by it."
venera, i really, really, really beg to differ. i think you might want to try some artisanal fetas made here before you make such a broad denigration.
and, not all fetas "have to be" sheep's milk to be "real", iirc my cheese research. that's why i found your statement confusing: " French feta is amazing. It is creamy, briny, and goat-y without being overwhelmingly so."
did you say "goat-y"?
Alkapal, you are right--I should have qualified my statement as follows:
Mass produced domestic feta is garbage.
I mean the stuff you get at Safeway. I haven't tried local cheesemakers' feta, so I can't speak to it. But in desparation once or twice, I've gotten salty cardboard at my local grocer's cheese section labeled feta. And have pitched it after taking a bite.
Some fetas are of sheep's milk, some are of goat milk, and some a combination of the two. That's why I messed up my syntax, above. :) Traditionally (meaning in the old country), they never use cow milk for feta. I honestly find the aroma/flavour of sheep/goat feta to be far superior to that of cow milk, but understand how it can be too strong for some people unused to such "earthy" aromas and flavours.
And since I'm thinking about it, here's the EU bit:
"Since 2002, under EU rules, only sheep- and goat's-milk cheese produced by a specific process and in specific parts of Greece can be called "feta."
Good thing we're in the US! :) :) :)
venera, re your grocery store feta point of reference, i'm with you there, gal!
and you are right, original (and authentic "true") feta is ewe's and goat's milk cheese. this bbc info page was enlightening and entertaining about feta: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A872048
try that blue ridge dairy (jersey cow's milk) "feta", though; it is quite nice!
martha, call the resto and ask. i'll bet they'd be happy to tell you the type, and maybe their source.
i found a gorgeous fresh jersey cow's milk feta at the arlington farmer's market from the blue ridge dairy company -- which is located in leesburg. (their butter, mascarpone, and smoked mozz are equally fine!) younger, non-brined feta is going to be better for your purpose than aged, brined feta.
http://www.freshfarmmarkets.org/farme... (says also sold to local whole foods).
that first link has phone and email. might be worth a fun trip to the dairy!
otherwise, i get the israeli feta at trader joe's.