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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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feta

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
                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                    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 : -)