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A Few Questions About Feta.....

I recently purchased an imported Feta. The description: Barrel-aged, 4 month maturation, made from sheep's and goat's milk. I found it to be less salty and more tangy than the Feta I usually purchase from PenMac. Theirs is described as atleast a 2 month maturation, and is soley made from sheep's milk. I'm interested in knowing what accounts for the flavor more. The type of milk that is used? Or is it how long the cheese is matured? Is there any rule to what type of milk is used for making Feta? I really preferred the imported. Great flavor! Thanks for any info.....

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  1. As a general rule, cheeses that are aged longer have a stronger flavor. But, as you've noted, there are other factors at play here: the type of milk, the way it's aged, the saltiness of the brine, and as always the stylistic preferences of the cheesemaker.

    Traditionally, feta is made from sheep's milk, sometimes with goat's milk added. According to wikipedia: "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 some areas of Greece (mainland and the island of Lesbos), and made from sheep milk, or from a mixture of sheep and goats’ milk (up to 30%) of the same area, may bear the name "feta". However, similar white brined cheeses (often called "white cheese" in various languages) are found in the eastern Mediterranean and around the Black Sea. Similar brined white cheeses produced outside the EU are often made partly or wholly of cow's milk, and they are sometimes called "feta"."

    I'm guessing that the tangier flavor you noted comes from the goat's milk. Middle Eastern markets/delis often carry several different types of "feta" (I know one that has at least six). If you can find them, it might be interesting to do a tasting.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I can also be made from cow's milk in the EU - the richest, creamiest feta I ever tasted was a French cow's milk version that I found at Whole Foods some years ago. Alas, they seem to have stopped carrying it.

      I guess WF was unaware of the EU labeling laws.

      1. re: BobB

        I believe (though may be wrong) that the EU labeling laws apply to products sold for distribution in the EU. If the product is made for distribution in the US alone, then those laws wouldn't apply.

        1. re: cresyd

          That's likely true - though it's also quite possible that the producer sold it as fromage frais de vache or some such, and Whole Foods took it upon themselves to label it feta.

      2. re: Ruth Lafler

        Great info. I used to think feta was just made from goat's milk alone. The imported feta I tried was from Greece. Further description stated "the wheels are placed in birch barrels & sit in a 7% brine solutution for a 4 month maturation". Seems like a low percentage compared to the 30% that was mentioned. I love feta, but this was really special. More flavor, not just salty. Nice texture too!

        1. re: Phoebe

          Sounds delicious. I'll have to keep an eye out for it!

      3. What Ruth said is spot on. In addition if you should find the Bulgarian sheep's milf feta, usually in a square white and green plastic 2 lb. container or a 50 lb metal version portioned off by a cheese or Eastern Med store, you will be pleased. It has a bit less salt and a very creamy paste that for me is my favorite.

        1. While I can't comment on whether or not the milk used has any effect, I do find that imported barrel-aged Feta has always been far less salty than commercial types.

          1. The owner of a favorite Lebanonese restaurant had suggested to me that I may like French Feta better than Greek. Indeed I do.

            This is a short blurb I found on French Feta: In the Roquefort region of France, the excess amount of sheep's milk is used to produce an excellent quality feta cheese. This cheese is much more creamier than the Greek version and tends to be less salty tasting. The French use a unique salted whey brine that creates a much more creamy and tangy feta. You may also find it more to your liking!

            1. Lately I buy Trader Joe's feta, the full-fat kind as the low-fat tastes like chalk. I've bought feta from all the animals and all the countries: France, Greece, Bulgaria, Israel, Lebanon, etc. Some were too dry, some too creamy, some had too much of a gamy taste. I didn't want to admit to my friends but I liked TJ's best. And when I took the label off in the kitchen and served it in the dining room, so did they. It's cow's milk.