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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.

              1. The best feta I had was in a tiny restaurant in the Amari valley in Crete. It was made by the nice woman who owned the restaurant. It was velvety creamy and had the perfect balance of the zing you get from feta. I asked the proprietor what kind of milk it was made from. She said they use whatever is on hand. The version I had was made from mostly sheep’s milk with a touch of cow’s milk. When buying feta in the states I find my preference varies from batch to batch so it’s good to go to a cheese store where you can taste the cheese. I don’t think you can conclusively say that French is best. It depends on the particular batch and time of the year. I usually buy Greek feta for two reasons. Feta is traditionally a Greek cheese and I tend to like to buy things where they are traditionally made. Also the current Greek versions I have been tasting are really good.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Ridge

                  I think that the protected status (PDO) of feta in the EU has potentially done an odd thing to the quality of feta outside the EU. Now that any cheese sold in the EU as feta needs to come from specific areas of Greece (since 2002), you have all sorts of other feta producers in Europe that had to rename their cheese or sell it inside the EU, or export it otuside the EU. So I could see a situation where feta not from Greece in North America being a better quality at a better value because it doesn't have to come from Greece.

                  I live in Jerusalem, and Israel has its own feta producing tradition which is produced at a high quality and is locally available for excellent value. In comparison, the made in Greece feta that makes it here ends up costing far more and being of pretty dubious quality.

                  Not saying this is universal, but it's definitely something I've noticed.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    It's worth keeping in mind that the terminology can be confusing and even misleading. EU regulations or not, feta or feta-type cheeses are traditional in lots of countries, especially in the Balkans and Middle East. Here in Israel we enjoy a fresh local cheese called Bulgarit, or Bulgarian, which is sort of a mild, often softer feta. Likewise some other dairy products. Supposedly, it was introduced by immigrant Bulgarian Jews, and supposedly it has no exact parallel back in Bulgaria. What in America is called "Greek yogurt" (yogurt thickened by draining off the whey) is made and enjoyed in lots of countries under other names. Over here it's labane, and a classic Arab breakfast dish, drizzled with olive oil and scooped up on pita. It's "Greek yogurt" in America because it was popularized there by a company of immigrant Greeks.

                    1. re: emu48

                      On other threads, I've argued that personally I disagree with Greek feta receiving a PDO status. I strongly agree that "feta" has lots of regional variations - that either force these "not made in Greece" variations to name and identify themselves as unique which is not historically how the cheese has migrated through the region. The same argument can be brought to halumi which originated in Cyprus but now has a far greater reach and tradition that occurred with population and cultural migration.

                      Personally, having had labne in Jerusalem and Greek yogurt (as it is sold in the US), I don't think that there's significant similarity but I understand the comparison being made.