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Something Strange Happened to the Feta in the Fridge

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We bought some French feta from Costco a couple of months (or so) back. Not needing most of it, I chucked the bulk of it into a plastic container just slightly larger than the cheese and put that in the little cheese drawer in the fridge. (I don't know if the smallest drawer in the fridge is called a cheese drawer, but that's where I keep my cheese collection.) A couple of days ago, I opened the plastic container and found something very different from the crumbly feta that had originally gone in. The cheese had formed a pure white rind, quite similar to the kind one would see on a Vacherin. When I cut into the cheese, there was an oozy layer, also similar to Vacherin. It smelled good, so I had a tiny bit. It tasted lovely--not as rich and complex as, say, Epoisse, but had I not know its origins, I would have rounded up some nice toast and gone at it.

It is back in the fridge while I wonder if I risk certain death, or some dread disease (like a painful tummy) if I eat the results of this inadvertent affinage. Please advise.

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  1. My big block just developed a bit of mold, which I cut off and then consumed anyway. I'm jealous!

    1. white and green molds aren't supposed to be toxic, but I'll be interested to see what you decide to do.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sunshine842

        I just bought an Acme baguette and will warm some up tomorrow to enjoy (I hope) with the mutated feta.

      2. They hardly ever tell you this anymore unless you buy your feta from a very smart cheese monger, but feta should be stored in liquid, either milk or water. If you buy it in bulk that is imported from another country, it will most usually arrive packed in brine. That's how many feta cheeses become too salty. In this day and age in the U.S. (don't know about the current status in other countries), when I buy a large amount of feta for baking tyropita or spanakopita for example, it often comes in a cryovaced chunk of a pound or more with no brine in the package. That almost always means I will have to soak the feta in fresh water or milk for a day or more to reduce the saltiness and regain its original texture before I can use it for cooking. Or for salads. Or for anything else!

        So to answer your question, if you want feta to stay "fresh" and crumbly and have a moderately soft texture, next time you slip some feta into that nicely fitted container you use, just add water or milk before storing. Then change the storage liquid every couple of days. Daily if your goal is to reduce saltiness! And if you want "decent" crumbled feta for salads and such, buy bulk feta and allow it to soak and re-hydrate, then crumble it yourself. You'll get much better results!

        My guess is that you'll be safe re-hydrating your feta, or if you want grating cheese, just let it keep drying out! But "when in doubt, toss" is not a bad rule to fly by either! On the other hand, I have a chunk of Parmigiano Regiano that has been dehydrating in my cold cuts drawer in a zip lock bag for over a year now. It is now dark in color and about perfect for soup! '-)

        16 Replies
        1. re: Caroline1

          Mine had brine but it wasn't completely covered when the mold developed, so make sure the whole chunk is submerged. Those big blocks from the big stores are really too big for the average person, I think.

          1. re: Caroline1

            Feta should be stored in brine, not in plain water or milk. It's a cheese with a characteristic salty taste. That is one of its virtues. Immersing feta in a liquid with low or no salt causes the salt in the cheese to leach out and you wind up with insipid feta. Ideally, the concentration of salt in the brine should be approximately equal to the concentration in the cheese. (A too salty brine causes the cheese to become even saltier.) If you buy feta that doesn't come packed in brine, it's easy to make a brine at home. Put the feta in a container, fill it with water to cover (feta should always be completely immersed), and dump in some salt. Stir a couple of times and taste. The liquid should taste quite salty, but not gaggingly so. Adjust the salt if necessary. With long storage, the brine sometimes takes on an unpleasant smell. If it does, simply dump it and make some new brine.

            I recommend trying the Dodoni feta from Greece, which you can buy at Costco. It's made with sheep's milk, not cow's milk (which isn't allowed in Greek feta). It comes already packed in brine.

            1. re: cheesemaestro

              ? I thought Greek regulations allowed some percentage of cow's milk,declared on the label.

              1. re: lcool

                No. The PDO for Greek feta allows up to 30% goat's milk, but no cow's milk.

                1. re: cheesemaestro

                  thanks,it's been a long time since I gave it any thought,I remembered the 30 but not the animal

                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                    Actually, I do believe the PDO you're talking about did not go into effect until 2002, or about ten years ago, and was put into effect by the European Union. For anyone over age twenty or so, they may well remember "feta" made from cows milk. In many eastern Mediterranean countries, what we call "feta" is simply called "white cheese." When I lived in Turkey in the late fifties and early sixties, my local shops all carried "beyaz penir" (white cheese), and on asking, shopkeepers or street vendors would tell you the kind of milk it was made from. When I lived in Greece in the late eighties, I could get "feta" cheese on the local economy made from milks that ranged from pure sheep's milk, sheep and goat's milk, sheep and cows milk, or even all cows milk. All sorts of mixtures, though sheep's sheep's milk was certainly the easiest to come by.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Yes, the PDO dates from 2002 and was awarded only after a contentious, multi-year dispute between Greece and other EU countries that were producing "feta" (namely, France, Denmark and Germany) and were opposed to giving an exclusive PDO to Greece. To be sure, these countries, and many other non-EU countries made, and continue to make, feta-like cheese from various milks and combinations of milks. Bulgaria (which wasn't an EU member nation at the time of the dispute, but is now) makes such a cheese, which they call "bialo sirene." Like the Turkish cheese you mention, that translates as "white cheese." It's important to remember that a PDO expresses what local producers feel is typical and distinctive within the particular geographic region, and the exclusion of cow's milk from the PDO for Greek feta reflects that. The terrain where the animals that give the milk for feta live is certainly more conducive to raising sheep than cows. While some cow's milk feta (which can't be called that anymore in Greece) may be still available there, I'm sure that the amount pales in comparison to cheese made from all sheep's milk or sheep/goat blends.

                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                        and the problem is that the salty white cheese was sold as "feta" for so many years that there really isn't a workable other name for it -- if you asked most people what "Turkish white cheese" is, I'm guessing you'd only have a few who'd know.

                        Even in France, it's now just called 'brebis' -- which just means sheep's milk - there are dozens of other "fromage de brebis' on the shelf, so it comes down to the packaging (always blue with an image of a temple column...) and "de Grèce" to tell you what's inside.

                        NOT saying the PDO should be removed - I'm a big advocate of PDOs -- just that this particular one comes with its own quirky name issue.

                        (for example -- Brie is the generic name for the soft cheese traditionally produced to the east of Paris...it's when it's Brie de Meaux or Brie de Melun that the PDO is invoked)

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          On the issue of the PDO for feta, which both you and Caroline commented on, there were political, economic and nationalistic issues in play during the dispute. As you point out, there are instances where the EU grants a PDO on a restricted geographic basis (Brie de Melun, Brie de Meaux), but leaves the generic name (Brie) open to anyone. The same is true for Camembert (Camembert de Normandie is PDO, but just Camembert is not) and cheddar (West Country Farmhouse cheddar, made in four counties of southwest England, is PDO, but cheddar by itself is not).

                          With feta-like cheeses being made in so many countries, the question I find most interesting is why the EU did not follow suit with feta. Why did it give Greece the exclusive right to use the name, rather than grant it a more restrictive PDO (say, "feta of Greece") while allowing other countries to continue to use the generic term "feta"? There are several possible reasons. One obvious one is that there were thousands of years of history behind feta in Greece, but almost none in the the other EU nations.

                          However, the primary issue, in my opinion, was the market deception that prevailed at the time. Producers in Denmark (the loudest voice against giving Greece the PDO) and other EU countries making "feta" were employing marketing tactics that falsely implied a relationship to Greece or to Greek production methods. Packaging displayed Greek-like lettering and/or showed pictures of Greek shepherds or something else, like the Parthenon, which the public could be expected to associate with Greece. Sellers were telling customers that their feta was very similar to Greek feta, when it wasn't. Denmark's feta was made almost entirely from cow's milk and was often artificially whitened to achieve the color of Greek feta, a clear attempt to hoodwink buyers. In the end, I think that the governing body that administers the PDO believed that these marketing shenanigans could only be curtailed if Greece alone held the the right to the name "feta."

                2. re: cheesemaestro

                  I have no idea what the USDA regulations are on feta cheese, domestic or imported, but I do know that when I lived in both Greece and Turkey, if feta was too salty for cooking or just eating, you "desalted" it by soaking in milk or water. For longer term storage you added salt simply because salt is a sanitizer and you don't have to change the water as often. But for open refrigerator storage, you should change the brine weekly, if not oftener, or if you're lowering the salt content by soaking in nilk or water, change daily (or oftener). Whenever I can, I buy Greek, Turkish, or Bulgarian feta, with that order of preference. I don't think I've ever had French feta, and American feta is ALWAYS at the bottom of my preference list. It always requires "desalinization" if I want feta similar to what I learned to love in Turkey and Greece. Oh, and for mezzas, it's traditional in Greece to serve feta with a generous baptism pf olive oil. Preferably from your very own olive trees.... Been there, done that, and the hell with the tee shirt, I want the cheese and olive trees!!! '-)

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    In the US, there is no standard of identity for feta, nor does the US honor the PDO that is valid within the EU and restricts the name "feta" to Greece and to being made from sheep's milk or a sheep's milk/goat's milk combination. The position of the US government to date has been to oppose geographic restrictions for food products in the legal sense. Thus, any producer, be it a domestic or international one, can sell a cheese in the US made with any milk or blend of milks, and having any level of salt, and call it "feta."

                    It's true that salt acts both as a preservative and as somewhat of a sanitizer, but it is also there to maintain a certain level of saltiness in the cheese. Personally, I like my feta on the salty side. I rarely desalt it, although some recipes call for that. In any case, I prefer to keep my feta in brine and desalt it only if I need to rather than the other way around. Like you, I favor Greek feta (and sheep's milk feta in general). I like Bulgarian feta, too. Unfortunately, I can't find the Turkish version where I live.

                    1. re: cheesemaestro

                      It's available from several sources on-line. Amazon.com offers some of them here:
                      http://tinyurl.com/8dr688v
                      or you can shop ""direct" here:
                      http://www.bestturkishfood.com/
                      If you look at the selections offered, interestingly the only Turkish "white cheese" (beyaz penir) that is actually designated as "classic feta" is made with cow's milk. I find that amusing, and suspect it may be a way for Turks to "fly in the face" of the DOB supporting Greek feta! They DO have their rivalries! And as the selection illustates, "beyaz penir" (aka feta) is available in most milk types. I would even be willing to bet there are remote regions of eastern Turkey, along the old "spice route" where you will find "feta" cheese made from camel's milk. Unfortunately, the USDA forbids the sale of camel's milk in any food form in the USA, which is unfortunate, because camel's milk is purportedly most like human milk of any other species' milk in the world. Or so I've been told by drinkers of camel's milk. And their children certainly looked healthy and well nourished!

                      You know, man has been making cheese -- AND wine -- since time immemorial, and everyone has always understood that not all "white cheese" tastes alike, nor does all "bubbly white wine" taste alike, yet despite all of that, today some groups and governments are trying to make names proprietary to regions. I don't think the French government's snit about calling any sparkling wines that are not grown and bottled in the Champagne region of France "champagne" makes those un-pedigreed wines any less enjoyable. However, I do support the Champagne designation a whole lot more than I do the PDO on "feta." I have had feta cheese from cows milk in Greece, as well as in Turkey, and Greeks, in their native habitat, are a very robust, intelligent, and argumentative people. I cannot believe that there is broad support for the DOB designation of "feta" across the board in that country! But because there is economic advantage to getting non-Greeks living in other countries to BELIEVE that "real" feta has to be made in Greece from sheep's milk, I feel confident the Greek government is very fond of the DOB! '-)

                      Anyway, as usual, politics tries to get in the way of our food! I tend to tune out and just eat what I like. If you're not anti-mail order, I heartily recommend giving Turkish white cheese -- including feta! -- a try.

                      Oh, and just for the record, here is the manufacturer's recommendation to the consumer on how to treat and serve what are arguably Turkey's finest white cheeses. The English translation is a bit rough, but it says:
                      ....................
                      Tahsildaroglu Special Production Ezine Sheep’s-Goat’s-Cow’s milk White cheeses are manufactured through the processing of milk which is famous for its natural flavour and taste owing to the climate conditions of Ezine region. Ezine Sheep’s-Goat’s milk cheeses have to be kept for minimum 1 year, and Ezine Cow’s milk cheese has to be kept for minimum 6 months under cold weather conditions so that they can acquire their insatiable tastes. On account of this, it is recommended that after the package is opened, the portion to be consumed is treated with freshwater to maintain the natural taste and flavour. The remaining part should be covered with its own package, if possible inside the saltwater with minimum contact with air, and kept inside the refrigerator under +3/+5C. It should never be placed inside the deep freeze or freezer. If the portion to be consumed is taken out of the refrigerator before 30 minutes and kept under room temperature, the cheese will re-take its natural smell and taste, leaving a more permanent delicious taste in the mouth.
                      ....................................

                      Or, in Turkce:
                      Tahsildaroglu Özel Üretim Ezine Koyun-Keçi-Klasik Beyaz Peynirleri, Ezine yöresinin iklim kosullarindan kaynaklanan, dogal aromasi ve lezzeti ile ünlü sütlerinin islenmesiyle imal edilmektedir. Ezine Koyun-Keçi peynirleri minimum 1 sene, Ezine Klasik peyniri ise minimum 6 ay soguk hava kosullarinda bekletildikten sonra doyumsuz tatlarina erisebilmektedir. Bundan dolayi, dogal tat ve aromasini kaybetmemesi için; tüketeceginiz kadarinin ambalaji açildiktan sonra tatli sudan geçirilmesi tavsiye edilir. Geri kalani dilimlenmeden, kendi ambalajinda veya mevcut ise içindeki salamura suyunda agzi kapali sekilde hava ile temasi aza indirgenerek buzdolabinda +3/+5C’de muhafaza edilmeli, derin dondurucu veya buzluga asla konulmamalidir. Buzdolabinda muhafaza edilen peynirler kullanilmadan 30 dakika önce tüketilecegi kadar miktari çikarilip, oda sicakliginda bekletilirse dogal koku ve tatlarini alip, agizda daha kalici mükemmel bir lezzet birakacaklardir.
                      ............

                      Whatever the language, it's good stuff!

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Thanks, Caroline! That was an enjoyable read, and I think I get the gist of the English translation--or maybe not. But I have the same memories of feta always coming packed with a lot of brine. In my most recent (and still evolving) purchase, there might have been 2 tablespoons of brine, and I didn't think it would make much of a difference in the storage. I also had so many plans for that small brick of feta, none of which have materialized.

                        But I shall keep an eye out for the Turkish feta you mentioned, thank you!

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Thanks for the mail-order sources. One of my goals for the fall is to make some Turkish dishes. I really like Turkish food, but don't have any experience with cooking it. I just bought Özcan Ozan's cookbook, The Sultan's Kitchen. Once I figure out what ingredients I don't have, I'll include the white cheese in my order.

                          Just curious, can you read the blurb you included in your post in Turkish?

                          1. re: cheesemaestro

                            Yes. Well, it's half a century since I was proficient enough in Turkish to act as an interpreter. Just like anything else, use it or lose it comes into play, and it's damned hard to find Turkish speakers where I live!

                            Anyway, the Turkish part says pretty much the same thing as the English translation EXCEPT - and I think you will find this most interesting! -- while the English translation specifies "sheep-goat-cow's milk" the Turkish version simply says, "sheep-goat-classic" milk, illustrating that cows milk feta is pretty much the favorite in Turkey. So much for the EU's PDO!

                            On the etymology of the word "feta," I do believe it is originally a Turkish word absorbed into Greek. But then in the last five or six thousand years of history, sometimes Greece and Turkey have been one country, sometimes they have been many countries, sometimes they have been friends, sometimes they have been enemies. And today they have a lot of words in common, but it is curious that the Turks call "feta" white cheese (beyaz penir) more often than they call it feta.

                            Feta is a cheese that has been common throughout the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Levant since they first started making cheese. For the European Union to start trying to designate what is authentic and what is not at this late date is comical, as well as pathetic.

                            I fully expect you to fall in love with Turkish food. It truly is one of the world's great cuisines. A lot of traditional Turkish dishes have been absorbed and re-branded as French cuisine. One bit of information for you: I haven't read Ozcan Ozan's cookbook but have looked at it longingly for some time. I don't know if he does it or not, but I have seen a lot of traditional Turkish recipes where raisins are substituted for the traditional black currants. Use black currants whenever you can! And my fondest and most generous wish for you is that someday you go to Turkey, and experience the food first hand! There is something magical about sitting in an outdoor restaurant in ear shot of a muzen in a magical minaret singing prayer calls while looking out over an incredible view. Turkey is full of them. And if you ever get to go there, rent a car and stay away from tour guides! But research as you go. '-)

                    2. re: cheesemaestro

                      agreed a mild brine so you don't loose the salty nature of the feta

                  2. I buy one pound packages of feta which comes vacuum sealed in brine. Once I open the package, I dump the unused portion onto a new vacuum seal bag with the original brine. I reseal the bag using the vacuum seal machine very carefully- that is - I watch the air being pulled out of the bag with my hand poised on the seal button. As soon as I see the air is mostly out and observe that the liquid brine has been pulled around the feta, I zap the seal button. This is a technique we've played around with for years through many experiments with making our own brines, not using brine, re-using brines, etc, etc. etc. We cut our vacuum bags to permit multiple openings/reseals. It also helps that we are working with relatively small pieces of feta (5x5 or smaller). The combination of using the original brine and pulling most but not all of the air out of the storage container has given us weeks of feta that in years of previous efforts we could not prevent from deteriorating.

                    1. I've had that happen, and it is quite delicious when mutated. Go for it!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: buttertart

                        Thanks, buttertart! I just did about an hour ago--and no ill effects so far. . . Next step is to have some crisp white wine with French Feta 2.0. (I prefer to wait until after noon before hitting the bottle.)

                        And, oh, I ate it while waiting for the gianduja frosting on souschef's chocolate fig torte to firm up. I think I'll have the feta as an afternoon snack, and the torte as dessert for snack.

                        1. re: pilinut

                          So, where's mine?

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            Come on over to the Bay Area and I'll let you have some of the chocolate torte. Give me 3 days notice and you can have canelés. AND I'll even save you some feta ;-) (Or maybe it was the wine you wanted?)

                            1. re: pilinut

                              Ooooooh... I can feel my hips expanding just imagining it! You're such a good and generous cook! Thank you! I should be there in about twenty minutes, okay? '-)

                          2. re: pilinut

                            That torte is wonderful...must make it again.

                        2. I wouldn't eat feta that's more than a few days old, unless it was kept in brine. You may use plain water or milk if you want to reduce the saltiness, but without some sort of liquid it doesn't keep more than a week - max. I don't know how that French version of yours was made, but it doesn't sound like any feta I know. Greek feta, when it goes bad, may get moldy or develop a yellowish tint on the outside. You can cut it off and eat the rest, but it may have an unpleasant smell. In that case you can't eat it raw, but you can still use it in pies, fritters, etc.