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FETA -- Cheese of the month (July, 2013)

I've been pushing cheddar in the nomination thread, but it's July, and it's hot (yes, this week it's hot even in San Francisco), and Feta is the ultimate summer cheese: cool, tangy, salty, great in salads and other warm-weather dishes. I'm jumping the gun a little to give people the chance to shop on Sunday and maybe plan some dishes with Feta for 4th of July picnics or barbecues.

Feta is one of the most diverse and versatile of cheeses: traditionally made from sheep's milk, but often made with goat or cow. Although originally from Greece, it is made in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean/Eastern Europe, in France, and of course in the US.


Because it is so diverse and relatively inexpensive, the challenge this month is not only to post about Feta, but for each participant to try as many different types of Feta as possible: different countries of origin, different milks, different aging (some Feta is "barrel aged"), etc.

I'm off to my local Middle Eastern deli to buy six kinds of Feta. Join me!

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  1. Nice choice, Ruth!

    Just to start off the controversy- since 2005, "feta" must be greek, and must be 70% sheep and 30% goat.

    Personally, I love the Valbreso sheep's milk feta from.... France. creamy, salty and delicious.

    I do think that cow's milk feta is just plain wrong.

    20 Replies
    1. re: cheesemonger

      To be accurate, it must be at least 70 percent sheep and as much as 30 percent goat (i.e. it can be up to 100 percent sheep).

      1. re: cheesemonger

        To be precise - Feta in the EU must be Greek.

        1. re: cresyd

          "To be precise - Feta in the EU must be Greek."

          Interesting to know, cresyd. Some Feta is made in France and sold in the USA under the name Feta. What do they call French Feta in the EU?

          1. re: Fowler

            According to an article posted on this thread, they said that after the regulations that names like French (or Bulgarian) White Cheese would be given.

            The article's brief chapter on the EU regulations also mentions that prior to the regulations there were about 3000 feta producers in Greece, but now given the extent and requirements of the regulations there are only 500. Personally, I live in the Middle East (where the naming regulations also don't apply) - and personally, I do not support the rationale behind this set of regulations. But there it is.

            1. re: cresyd

              Thanks for the information. I agree with you about the regulations. They must cause a significant amount of confusion if they are simply using a generic catch-all term like "white cheese".

              1. re: Fowler

                I agree - but I prefer that they're using the term "white cheese" instead of giving it a more "proper" name.

                I'm not saying that I think that all sparkling wines should be Champaigne - but the fact that there are names like Proseco and Cava ends up making them thought as differently. If French feta were to come up with a more specific name, then in addition to packaging labels it would start to be thought of as XYZ French name. By calling it French white cheese, I think it does more to keep it as code for feta.

                1. re: cresyd

                  "By calling it French white cheese, I think it does more to keep it as code for feta."

                  Hmmm...perhaps I misunderstood. So in the EU, all French White Cheese is French Feta? If there were say a French version of Mozzarella that would not be called French White Cheese?

                  And I agree that all sparkling wines should not be called Champagne. One would be in for quite a surprise if they opened a bottle of something labelled Champagne only to discover it was a bottle of Australian sparkling shiraz!

                  I guess I like the system in effect within the USA where cheese is labelled, for example, Spanish Manchego, Italian Piave, New York State Cheddar, Swiss Raclette, etc. It precludes any guess work or confusion.

                  1. re: Fowler

                    I'm not in France, so I don't know. But, while Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is PDO, the name "mozzarella" itself is not.

                    The system you're referring to in the US though - does that have anything to do with law? I mean, can you truly not name/sell a cheese where the big label is "Spanish Manchego" - despite it being made in the US? In the sense of 'Spanish' being used as a description of the cheese (aka Spanish style) as opposed to a place of origin. It's been a while since I've done any serious grocery shopping in the US, but I remember growing up and seeing "English Cheddar" sold, where I'm 90% sure that the English wasn't in reference to the country of origin but rather style of cheese.

                    Items like cheese in the US will tell you where the product is made - but strictly on the label I wouldn't trust as to where it was from.

                    1. re: cresyd

                      The EU regulations regarding Feta are meant to protect the traditional producers in Greece. And there is something to be said about that. Feta is traditionally a Greek cheese. Although there are similar cheeses made in other countries, the name “Feta” is associated with the version made in Greece. Just like Epoisse is traditionally made in France and Champagne traditionally made in Champagne. Personally I like to try to buy things from where they are traditionally made so I buy parmesan from Italy, epoisse from France, feta from Greece, soy sauce from Japan or China. I like the idea of supporting the traditional producers and the products are usually better. But that’s just me. And I have to admit sometimes I stray, for example I sometimes buy Sake made in Berkeley.

                      1. re: Ridge

                        Sho Chiko Bai is my go to sake as well on the east coast.

                        1. re: Ridge

                          I understand the reasoning, but in regards to feta I disagree. I personally do believe that feta has become "generic-ized" - perhaps not across Europe - but definitely through the Levantine countries. Mozzarella and cheddar are considered generic, though there are more specified versions that do receive PDO certifications, the EU regulations also recognize when a cheese becomes generic.

                          I have had it explained to me in other posts why feta in Greece is more traditional than feta and Cyprus vs other Levantine areas, but those are reasons I have considered and have dismissed. Given all sorts of historical and population movements in that part of the world, I personally have dismissed the idea that Greece "owns" feta.

                          1. re: Ridge

                            I don't think your analogy holds in the case of feta cheese. Epoisse is Epoisse because it's from Epoisse. Feta is called feta today but existed long before it gained that name. Before that, Greeks just called it fresh cheese, to distinguish it from aged cheeses. Thracians (modern Bulgarians) did the same - and Bulgarians still do the same. Feta is "white cheese" in Bulgaria today and it's the same cheese they've been eating for ages. Everyone in that part of the world made and makes a fresh, brined cheese. Greeks can call it what they want but they can't claim the product as uniquely traditional to their culture.

                            1. re: caganer

                              Be that as it may, the name Feta is Greek. Why not call the Bulgarian version "Bulgarian white cheese". Why usurp the Greek name? Just my opinion. We can agree to disagree.

                              1. re: Ridge

                                There's nothing to disagree about - your statement was neither logically sound nor historically correct. Those facts are pretty much indisputable.

                                Your analogy was imprecise. It's no big deal, it just was and we've all done that.

                                Your contention that the brined white cheese that is ubiquitous from the northern Balkans through to central Asia and called feta by the Greeks (a name they borrowed from the Italians) is "traditionally" and exclusively a product of Greece is absolutely incorrect. Feta is not to Greece as Champagne is to France.

                                1. re: caganer

                                  I never denied that similar cheeses were made in Bulgaria and Turkey. Of course they are. But the name Feta is Greek. Just like the name Parmesan is Italian. Now you have Parmesans made all over and most of them are mediocre. That's my concern about other places making similar cheeses and giving them the same name for monetary reasons. Places like Denmark which have no history of making a Feta like cheese are mass producing Feta cheese and want to use the label for no reason other than to help their cheese sell. Thats just wrong. The name "Feta" is historically Greek. Similar cheeses are made in other Balkan countries but they are not Feta cheese.

                                  1. re: Ridge

                                    the name feta is historically Italian - fetta (the second "t" got droped when transliterating into the Greek alphabet and was never restored when transliterating back to spelling with the Latin alphabet. (the parmesan analogy fails for the same reason the previous ones did - parmesan/Parma)

                                    By your reasoning, before the Greeks picked up the fashionable Italian name for their fresh brined cheese it wasn't feta either. But of course, it was the same cheese it had been for a few thousand years by then.

                                    Think of bread, brot, pan, pane, pain, chleb. Made all over europe for a few thousand years. Over a few decades the french start to call it something they picked up from their dealings with Bosnians: say "rezati" and that name sticks throughout the western world to the extent that Americans call it "rezati" not bread. Does that mean that the French invented and are the traditional producers of "rezati" or did they just rename something they and everyone else had for ages before that? If Germans started selling their bread to us but labeling it "rezati" so we'd understand what it was, would their "rezati" be less traditional even though they've been baking just as long?

                                    1. re: caganer

                                      I don't think that the fact that Pamesean is named after a place makes the analogy fail. Both feta and Parmesan are associated historically with a place. I respect your opinion but have a different one.

                                      1. re: Ridge

                                        I honestly think the real problem here is that feta or whatever one calls it is just such a sort of elemental, basic form of cheese that it's better thought of as a category than a specific cheese.
                                        And it's fine to think of it as a Greek thing. They have an equal claim to it, at least. I think of it as lots of people's things. I'm partial to Bulgarian for reasons that are partly sentimental and partly taste - plus it's cheap for the quality.
                                        (as for the EU regs., if Brussels cared what Bulgarians or Turks or Georgians or... really thought Feta wouldn't be so Greek...)

                                        1. re: Ridge

                                          The Italian cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parmesan is a word coined by Kraft many decades ago and automatically proves the cheese is not Italian, and thus not authentic.

                                2. re: caganer

                                  Actually the best current Epoisses, not Epoisse is made in Gevrey-Chambertin, yes a French village, but not the village of Epoisses.

              2. i just returned to Florida without a car-this will be an interesting challenge for me

                1. Bulgarian in the green and white container, plastic small, metal huge is my fav 100% sheep's milk feta. Usually less salty, creamier, and more of a zing.
                  Place slab under broiler with evoo on top and broil till getting brown, smoosh on crackers.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    Feta hasn't been on my cheese rotation, and I've not paid much attention to origin or styles. But last week a chopped salad offered as a daily special on a cafe's menu board caught my eye because it listed sheeps milk Bulgarian feta as an ingredient. Given the otherwise locavore tendencies here, I figured the feta much be something special. And indeed it turned out to be so. Creamier and not chalky, the zippy feta was just a bit firmer than the chunks of avocado that also graced this salad. Less salty as you say too. I liked it.

                    20th Century Cafe chopped salad

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      As one who spends every summer in Turkey and has consumed more than my fair share of feta, the advice above is spot on. Find yourself a Middle Eastern grocer, they will likely sell Bulgarian feta. It is the best feta I have eaten within the United States. I've eaten it on both coasts (MA and CA) and it has been delicious and precisely the same thing in both places.

                      1. re: fame da lupo

                        It depends on how you plan on using it, tho. I love Bulgarian (and French) feta, but I find both too creamy and mild to stand up in a choriatiki. Greek feta has the right amount of saltiness, tanginess *and* crumbliness for salads.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          Eating a Bulgarian feta I picked up at the aforementioned Parthenon today. Very VERY light texture, almost fluffy, compared to other fetas I've sampled. A bit sour, not super salty. Agree it would not be the best for horiatiki -- for that I use my beloved barrel.

                          Agree heartily with ridge's comments about there not being "A" Greek/Bulgarian/French feta but rather many different kinds. It's often harder to figure out exactly what you're getting feta-wise because the labeling is long gone before I get my piece chopped off the giant slabs in the store...

                    2. http://culturecheesemag.com/cheese-li...

                      i looked up feta on this site and found several that I want to try if i can find them

                        1. re: byrd

                          Choice pun on that link, byrd, and an interesting article. We are lucky to have a very good Mediterranean grocer nearby with a heavy leaning on various Greek fetas. My top two, nearly always in the fridge, are Dodonis and Barrel. The former is super creamy but flavourful, while the latter leans a bit saltier and drier but also packs a wallop in taste. I find it difficult to eat other non-sheepy fetas now. Tough first-world problem, but there it is.

                          1. re: grayelf

                            Picked up some Dodoni feta at Costco this weekend and had it in a roasted eggplant salad for dinner tonight. I was surprised when I first cut into it because I'm used to a drier, more crumbly, feta. I just loved it; what great flavor. I only hope Costco continues to carry it. I'd never heard of the brand before, but was so impressed with it I came right here to see if anyone had mentioned it. Coudn't have been happier to read your post, grayelf.

                            1. re: JoanN

                              Many consider the Dodoni the finest of the Greek Fetas, l do for one.

                              1. re: JoanN

                                So glad you loved it, JoanN! I just hope you aren't ruined for all other lesser fetas now : -)

                          2. Feta is a great pick for summer, Ruth. Thanks.

                            One of my favorite salads when watermelon is in season:

                            chiffonade of either fresh basil or mint
                            all drizzled with a little fresh lime juice

                            I am away from home right now but when I return I will post my recipe for oil and herb marinated feta.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Fowler

                              I used one of the fetas I bought the other day to make a watermelon salad (I didn't have any fresh herbs, so I took a suggestion from another recipe and used black pepper). It went over very well. My mother made a salad using green beans and feta. She apologized for also using feta, and I told her about the "cheese of the month" and that I'd specifically chosen feta because it's so popular in summer dishes like salads and that she'd proven my reasoning was sound.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                made lamb burgers with a feta sauce (I used Israeli feta for this one and quite liked it though I am generally a fan of Bulgarian feta and prefer it for cooking and salads, while I like the French feta best plain) - sauce is feta, greek yogurt, garlic, chopped fresh mint, oregano and parsley, a little olive oil to blend. lovely with the burgers and the leftovers were great as a cracker spread. Oddly, I have not found a greek feta I like as well as Bulgarian or French.

                                1. re: teezeetoo

                                  That sauce sounds wonderful and I will try that soon as a gyro sauce. Thanks for the details.

                            2. My Middle Eastern store went bust about 5 years ago, so I availed myself of a high end deli and Publix supermarket.

                              The deli had the cheese in a jar in the cheese case. Good sign. I bought a block which they put in a container with plenty of liquid. $5.99 per lb. Asked them where it was from and no clue.

                              Publix had imported Vigo. $3.99 per 1/2 lb. Sheep milk, thankfully.

                              Publix generic on sale for $2.49 per 1/2 lb. Cows milk.

                              I took a chunk of each and let them get up towards room temp.

                              The Vigo was a salt bomb. It overpowered everything. Very little tang.

                              The Publix had a slight beige color. Some sharpness with a creamy feel on the tongue. Highest butterfat content of the three. Salty but nice.

                              The deli was white with huge curds, low salt, and extremely fresh. No sharpness at all. Tasted exactly like cottage cheese curds. Blah.

                              For the cooking test, I put them under the broiler as a topping for 4 sea pens I got off a sandbar Sunday and purged overnight.

                              Usually I can enjoy 1 or 2 at the most as they are very salty and a sharp mineral aftertaste. But I was going to take one for the team. I was so stuffed afterwards, the seafood alfredo is tonight's dinner.

                              All were sauced with a basic butter, wine, diced mushrooms, garlic, white pepper, and cream. All were finished under the broiler at the same time.

                              The Vigo added so much salt to the dish, it was almost inedible. The cheese half melted with slight browning.

                              Publix melted down and covered the dish. It browned just short of a char. I attribute this to the relatively high butterfat content. It was flavorful but did not overpower the shellfish.

                              The deli kind of fell apart while melting. The shellfish were swimming in whey. No flavor meant the metallic taste of the shellfish really came through. This stuff desperately needs olive oil or caraway seeds to give it some oomph.

                              To my taste, I would readily use the Vigo in a salad, and the Publix for cooking. I will not be buying the deli stuff in the future.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                Both Publix by my way carry their label Greek feta in the little crayovac packs; decent, with no problem eating it on its own.

                                As far as I'm concerned Arahova barrel is the standard bearer that all feta should be judged by...

                                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                  If the Florida parole board relaxes their mandate and allows certain people to cross state boarders, there is a place at 91 Street and Cleveland Avenue that sells usually 3 or 4 types of Feta and they are all very cheap.

                                2. I love that Feta is the cheese of the month and maybe you can help me. I really enjoy Feta but usually the standard grocery store processed feta in the shrink-wrapped container - I usually go for Athenos. My local Whole Foods has a great range of Feta but I've tried a few in brine, but I've tried a few and just found them to be so mild as to not be worth eating. Are there any that you recommend I try if I like a stronger flavor?

                                  1. not having a car sucks-
                                    gave my son my car for few months-
                                    drove my car from Florida to New Jersey in a day plus a few hours.

                                    I took a cab to Whole Foods this morning.
                                    first chance I had this month
                                    I bought Mt.Vikos feta to try-
                                    i usually don't enjoy feta-
                                    I had some for a late lunch.
                                    The feta was a combo .of pasteurized sheep and goat milk.
                                    I actually enjoyed the cheese in my fresh green and olive salad-not too salty/crumbly

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: jpr54_1

                                      I actually have discovered a feta I quite enjoy. Wegmans was testing the Mt Vikos barrel aged feta and I figure it was worth a taste. It was pretty tasty.

                                      1. re: jpr54_1

                                        Wegman's is a favorite NJsupermarket

                                        1. re: jpr54_1

                                          i went to whole foods in adventura florida

                                        2. It's important to remember that there are differences between different Fetas made in the same country and not over generalize. There is no Greek or Bulagian or French style of Feta. For example I have had Bulgarian and French Fetas that are very hard and salty. And Greek Fetas that run the gamut from mild and creamy to hard and salty and everything in between. The particular producer has more of an influence on the cheese than the country it is made in.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: Ridge

                                            There are always regional differences to cheeses, I think most people on this board are aware of that reality.

                                            That said, the majority of fetas/white cheeses I've had from France or Bulgaria -- and perhaps this is due to export factors -- have been on the very mild, creamier side, whereas the majority of Greek fetas I've tried tend to be tangier, saltier, and more robust & crumbly.

                                            I do believe that's a good rule of thumb for folks who likely will only have access to, say, one feta from Greece or from France, not several.

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              Could be, but there are exceptions. The last Bulgarian one I tried was more hard and salty.

                                              1. re: Ridge

                                                I wish we had a greater selection of feta where I live most of the year. It's easier to get a variety in Berlin, but in the boonies of the Midlands, it's a bit more difficult.

                                                I love feta in any variety, mostly, so it'd be nice to be able to go beyond what's available at Wegmans and TJ's.

                                                Perhaps during my next visit to larger cities like NYC or Philly, I can try to pick up a variety.

                                                It's so vital to have a good, sturdy & flavorful feta for a quality Greek salad. A rather elusive endeavor, sometimes.

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  In my critique of the three types I bought, the bland feta over the last two weeks has aged in brine to a firm, tangy pleasure. A huge surprise when I crumbled it into my omelet last night.

                                          2. My wife has fallen in love with Feta. It now is an ingredient of every green salad we have for dinner. Oy weh! (use German pronunciation)

                                            1. I make a good marinated feta which is great either on its own or in salads, on vegetables, with pasta, on baked potatoes, etc.

                                              It is very simple to make. Just cut up the feta into large chunks. Create layers of it in a jar with fresh rosemary, Greek olive oil, thyme, bay leaf, dried chili pepper, ground black pepper and oregano. I sometimes use a little lemon zest and kalamata olive pieces as well.

                                              I keep that in the refrigerator but I am not positive that is necessary because the cheese is fully submerged in the olive oil. Just make sure to take the jar out of the refrigerator a bit ahead of time to let the oil return to a liquid consistency.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. After all the heated discussion about Feta I decided to do a blind tasting of different Feta cheeses. I purchased 7 different Fetas (pretty much all the Fetas they carry) from the Davis Food Coop in Davis CA. 3 were Greek, 1 was French, 1 was Bulgarian and two were US. My significant other and I tasted over a dinner of Gazpacho, Spanish ham and a baguette. I would say none of the cheeses were as good as Fetas I have had in Greece or ones my mom would get from her Greek grocer in NY. My significant other and mostly agreed on the cheeses. There were two that were our clear favorites but we differed in which our favorite was. The US Fetas were on the bottom and did not taste at all like Feta cheese. The tasting did go along with peoples observations that Bulgarian and French Fetas can be more on the mild and creamy side. Our favorites were the Greek Fetas. Here are some tasting notes:

                                                Bulgarian Feta. Sheep's milk. $8.69 a pound. I thought it was creamy but too mild. SO thought wrote "wet" and bland. It was ok but not flavorful enough for us to buy again.

                                                Mt. Vikos sheep and goat feta (Greek). I thought this was tangy smooth and well balanced. SO also commented "good texture" and flavorful. Was my SOs favorite and my second favorite.

                                                Greek Feta. Sheep and goat. $15.19 a pound. This was my favorite and my SOs 2nd favorite. I thought it was similar to the Mt. Vikos but saltier and with a deeper richer flavor. SO wrote "tart" and "sheepy"

                                                Redwood hill farms raw milk goat feta. $17.29 per pound. Actually a very good cheese. Only problem is that in no way does this resemble feta. SO wrote that it tasted like cheddar.

                                                Valbreso sheep feta(French) very smooth and creamy but it was marred by a musty off flavor similar to corked wine. This musty flavor made it difficult to judge.

                                                Organic valley Feta. No information about the source of milk. Like the Redwood hill this in no way resembles a feta. Unlike the Redwood hill this cheese has no redeeming qualities. Our notes are dry grainy bland.

                                                Hotos goat and sheep feta(Greek) similar to the other Greek Fetas but not as good. I liked it more than SO.

                                                I am curious to try more Fetas now. In the past we have had French and Bulgarian ones we enjoyed more than the ones we tasted.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Ridge

                                                  Sorry for the upside down pictures. Here is one more

                                                  1. re: Ridge

                                                    Love doing taste tests! Agree with you on the Bulgarian I tried -- put the rest in a (non) Spanish tortilla last night and while the texture was lovely it was mild verging on bland. I'll have to keep a lookout for other Bulgarians to try as they obviously vary from cheese to cheese...

                                                  2. re: Ridge

                                                    We went to the Cheeseboard in Berkely today and got to taste some mote Fetas. They had three Fetas a Corsican, Bulgarian and Greek:

                                                    Corsican feta. This one was our favorite of the three that we tasted, I thought it had good depth of flavor. It was less salty than some Fetas. My significant other thought it lacked the sheepy and goaty flavors of some of the good Greek Fetas. I would buy this Feta again.

                                                    Bulgaria feta. Kind of non-descript. Was more firm and salty than the one we got at the Davis food coop. Would not buy this one.

                                                    Greek feta. Was good but not as good as the two favorite ones from the coop. I might buy this one.

                                                  3. No recipe for this, but I offer up the feta-sundried tomato biscuit as a recipe idea. This is served at 1833 Restaurant in Monterey, CA. While a fine dining establishment, 1833 is known for its biscuits, serving this one and a maple-bacon-cheddar version. The feta-tomato one is a much subtler flavor, served with garlic-herb butter, yet a more interesting combination for me.

                                                    1. I have finally discovered a Feta that I really enjoy. I have no specifics really but it's a Greek feta in brine at Whole Foods. Has anyone else tried it or know more about it?

                                                      1. I am a new lover of Feta and my favorite so far is the Greek Feta in brine from Trader Joe's as well as the Mt. Vikos Greek at Whole Foods. For what I know, they might be one and the same. Israeli Feta has also been recommended, how would you compare this in general to Greek Feta?

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          I would taste different ones and see which you like best. The Greek ones tend to be more assertive and complex and have more of the qualities I like but there is lots of variability among different Greek Fetas as well.

                                                        2. I got my car back-yeah
                                                          I went to Greek Food warehouse-they had several brands of feta-
                                                          I bought Kolios to try.
                                                          It was made of all sheep's milk with salt , culture micro-biological rennet.
                                                          It was packaged in a small 7 oz. plastic rectangle.
                                                          I place the unused portion of the cheese in a container with greek olive oil.
                                                          My son, who returned my car from NJ, had a salad with the feta,stuffed grape leaves, greek olives, watercress/romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and spring onions. I made salad dressing using basalmic vinegar and xvoo(both from Fairway NJ). The salad was sprinkled with dried greek oregano still on stems.
                                                          The lunch was delicious-
                                                          the feta was good-much better than the ones I tried before-not too salty with a little tangy.