Greek feta. Danish feta. Even Bulgarian feta. Feta that’s suited for cooking. And ‘table feta’ that’s great to serve as is. But why does it matter? It’s all just cheese, right?
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Feta Cheese (and More)
In fact, there are hundreds of different types and styles of feta cheese made and consumed worldwide. It comes in a large array of flavour profiles, compositions and quality, from standard supermarket varieties to the coveted, gold standard Arahova variety. It’s made with sheep’s milk (traditionally), goat’s milk and cow’s milk. It comes wrapped in wax, soaking in salty brine or even marinated in oils and herbs. And what you choose can lead to a very different level of enjoyment.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about feta cheese.
What is Feta Cheese?
At its heart, feta is incredibly simple. The basic recipe has barely changed since ancient Greece dominated the Mediterranean. Milk is heated, mixed with rennet, drained, salted and aged. That’s it. There’s no washing, no introduction of moulds, no long ageing and no compression. Just milk + heat + rennet + salt.
When you eat feta you know you’re in for a special treat. To the touch it’s firm, yet soft. It can easily be crumbled into smaller unctuous pieces. You often find it encased in brine or other oils, and the cheese will take on those flavour profiles willingly.
Feta’s Protected Designation of Origin
Of course, true feta (or fetta) has some extra requirements. True feta has been designated as a protected destination of origin. This means that only cheese that meets the requirements set out is allowed to be called feta. According to EU legislation only those cheeses produced in the traditional way in particular regions of Greece and which are made from predominantly sheep’s milk, and with no more than 30% goat’s milk, are permitted to be called feta.
Traditional production of feta cheese can happen in one of three ways: barrel aged, basket aged or tin boxed aged.
Barrel Aged Feta Cheese
After the milk is cooked, it’s mixed with rennet, separated and placed in an ageing container. In this case a barrel. In a barrel the cheese is traditionally allowed to age longer, so it develops more richness, complexity and a sharper ‘cooked’ flavour.
Basket Aged Feta Cheese
Another method is basket ageing. In this case after cooking the cheese is briefly placed in a plastic basket before being soaked in brine for up to two months. This leads to a cheese that is saltier and with a younger, fresher flavour.
Tin Aged Feta Cheese
Tin ageing is much like basket ageing, except after cooking, the cheese briefly ages in a tin box before being submerged in a brine. Again, this leaves the cheese with a less developed, younger taste that is summery and fresh and great in salads.
In general, feta cheeses are fresh, white cheeses that have a salty and tangy profile, complemented by a crumbly and somewhat creamy texture. When they’re stored in brine, they have a subtle bite and dryness that is distinctive (and delicious)! Though they’re traditionally made with sheep’s milk, cow’s milk feta has a creamier flavour and a springy texture that’s worth looking out for when you’re on the hunt for something a bit different.
Other Countries of Origin
Most of what we’ve already discussed here has been traditional Greek feta. In Australia, where we aren’t governed by EU rules, we can call cheese from other countries feta as well. But in Europe they’d be referred to as ‘whites’. So Danish feta, for example, would simply be ‘Danish White’.
Danish Feta or Danish White
Danish feta is made from cow’s milk rather than sheep’s milk, and so is a creamier, smoother variant of the traditional feta cheese. People love it because of its mild flavour, creamy texture and ability to be cut, cubed and sliced without crumbling.
French Feta or French White
French feta is less briny than other countries of origin, and it tends to be softer, very mild and creamy. It’s one of the best fetas to have whipped as well.
Bulgarian Feta or Bulgarian White
Traditional Bulgarian feta is made with sheep’s milk and yoghurt culture. This gives it a supreme crumbly texture and a particularly distinct tangy taste.
Australian feta is also generally made from cow’s milk (though not always). While the texture and flavour can vary, it’s usually a happy medium between the saltiness of Greek feta and the creaminess of Danish feta.
Feta as a ‘table cheese’ is an important distinction. This means a cheese that can stand on its own merits and is delicious served with just a glug of olive oil and a handful of herbs. A table cheese is complex, full of flavour and character and is simply delicious on its own.
This is the kind of feta that you want to seek out, whether it’s for cooking or for eating on its own because it will always enhance the cheese experience.
Cooking with Feta Cheese
Of course, the distinctive characteristics of feta cheese make it perfect for cooking. Fetas and white cheeses do not melt in the same way that other cheeses do, but their flavours are hugely enhanced when they are baked. Feta is delicious in so many recipes, but you can also serve it very simply drizzled with really good olive oil and served with fresh fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, grapes and capsicum.
Marinated Feta on Crostini
One of our favourite recipes isn’t really a recipe. It takes marinated feta and serves it on crusty, delicious crostini. Delicious alongside eggs, fish or roasted vegetables.
This is a truly simple recipe, using just four ingredients – feta, vegetable antipasti, lemon and pitta bread.
Recipe at BBC Good Food.
Feta parcels with grilled courgettes and peaches
Delicious, salty feta wrapped in ribbons of courgettes and served with grilled peaches.
Recipe at delicious.
Baked Feta and Greens with Lemony Yogurt
Deliciously soft baked feta combines with crisped chickpeas and wilted greens for an easy (and amazing) weeknight dinner.
Recipe at Epicurious.
Feta cheeses are truly delicious, versatile and a great addition to your cheese platter and your recipe repertoire. Grab some today!