What is Feta? The Cheese with a 6,000-Year Heritage

Feta Cheese- The Comprehensive Guide Featured Image - CheeseOrigin.com

This guide is dedicated to the Greek culinary gem that has taken the world by storm – Feta cheese.

Famed for its tangy, sharp flavor and creamy texture, feta is not just a cheese; it’s a testament to the rich history and tradition of Greek cheesemaking dating back to the 8th Century BC.

This versatile cheese made predominantly from sheep’s milk or a blend of sheep and goat’s milk, is a staple in Greek cuisine, occupying a whopping 70% stake in their cheese consumption.

But, the feta phenomenon extends far beyond the borders of Greece. Its unique, briny taste and soft texture have earned it a cherished place in kitchens around the globe.

Whether crumbled over salads, melted into a frittata, or enjoyed on its own, feta has a way of elevating any dish.

In this guide, we’ll delve deep into the world of feta cheese, exploring its history, production, and varieties, and of course, sharing some mouthwatering recipes that will make you fall in love with feta all over again.

So, ready to embark on this flavorful journey? Let’s dive in!

Quick Facts About Feta

FactDescription
OriginGreece
Milk SourceSheep’s milk, or a mix of sheep and goat’s milk
TextureCrumbly, grainy
FlavorSalty, tangy
ColorWhite
Aging ProcessMinimum 2 months
Protected Designation of OriginRegistered as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under EU law since 2002
Historical OriginsFeta cheese is believed to be one of the oldest cheeses, dating back to ancient Greece
UsesSalads (particularly Greek salad), pastries, served with olive oil or olives

What is Feta Cheese

Feta cheese is a brined curd cheese that originated in Greece. It’s traditionally made from sheep’s milk or a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk.

This cheese is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine and is often used in salads, pastries, and sandwiches or served with olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

It’s rich in protein and calcium but also high in sodium due to the brining process. Feta cheese has a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, which means that only cheese made in specific areas of Greece using traditional methods can be called ‘Feta’.

Also read: Cheddar: The Global Favorite in the World of Cheeses

What Does Feta Taste Like

Feta cheese is celebrated for its unique flavor profile. It has a tangy, sharp taste that can be described as slightly sour, with a hint of sweetness.

The brining process gives it a distinct salty flavor too.

Feta’s taste can vary based on its aging process – the longer it’s aged, the tangier and saltier it becomes.

In terms of texture, feta is soft yet crumbly, and when fresh, it has a creamy mouthfeel.

Some varieties of feta also have a subtle grassy note, reflecting the diet of the sheep or goats that produced the milk.

Overall, feta’s taste is complex but well-balanced, making it a versatile choice for a wide range of dishes.

Feta tasting notes

  • Salty: Feta is known for its high salt content which gives it a distinct and robust flavor.
  • Tangy: The cheese has a tangy sourness to it that can range from mild to sharp depending on the age of the cheese.
  • Creamy: Despite its crumbly texture, feta can be surprisingly creamy when tasted. This creaminess can vary based on the type of milk used.
  • Slightly Sweet: Some types of feta have a slight sweetness that balances out the saltiness.
  • Earthy: Feta can have an earthy flavor, especially if it’s made with sheep’s milk.
  • Briny: Given that feta is often stored in brine, it can take on a briny, oceanic quality.
  • Piquant: The cheese carries a slight spiciness or peppery flavor.

Is Feta the Healthiest Cheese?

Feta cheese is often touted as one of the healthiest cheeses due to its nutrient content and lower calorie count compared to other cheeses. It’s packed with calcium, which is essential for muscle and nerve function, as well as for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Feta also contains decent amounts of vitamins A and K, and folate.

Moreover, feta is rich in protein and vitamin B, which can help fight infections and diseases. It also includes Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a fatty acid linked to positive changes in body composition.

However, it’s important to note that while feta has many health benefits, it does contain more fat and cholesterol than some other cheeses. It’s also high in sodium due to the brining process, so it should be consumed in moderation, especially by individuals monitoring their sodium intake.

So, is feta the healthiest cheese?

It depends on your dietary needs and restrictions. But with its unique combination of nutrients and lower calorie content, it’s certainly a healthy choice among the various cheese options.

Sources

Feta Nutrition Facts

The key nutrients in a 100 grams serving of Feta cheese:

NutrientQuantity
Calories264 kcal
Protein14.21g
Total Fat21.49g
Saturated Fat14.946g
Cholesterol89mg
Sodium1,113mg
Potassium62mg
Total Carbohydrate4.09g
Dietary Fiber0g
Sugars4.09g
Calcium493mg
Vitamin A422 IU
Please note that these values can vary slightly depending on the specific brand or type of Feta cheese.

What is healthier goat cheese or feta?

When comparing goat cheese and feta, both have their own health benefits, and the “healthier” choice can depend on your specific dietary needs and goals.

Goat CheeseFeta
OriginTypically FranceGreece
Milk SourceGoat’s milkSheep’s milk (can be blended with up to 30% of goat’s milk in the EU, outside of EU, cow’s milk is used)
TasteMild, creamy, tangySalty, tangy, slightly sharp
TextureSoft, spreadableCrumbly, yet can be sliced
Calories (per 100g)364265
Protein (per 100g)About 22gAbout 14g
Saturated Fat (per 100g)About 21gAbout 15g
VitaminsGood source of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and some B vitaminsHigher in riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12 compared to goat cheese
Health ConsiderationsHigher calorie and fat content, but also higher in protein. Suitable for those who are lactose intolerant.Lower in calories and fat than goat cheese. Contains ‘friendly’ bacteria.

Goat cheese is known for its high protein content. However, it contains more calories and saturated fat than feta. Specifically, goat cheese has 364 calories per 100 grams, while feta has 265 calories per 100 grams.

On the other hand, feta cheese provides more riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12 compared to goat cheese. It also has fewer calories and saturated fat than goat cheese.

Feta cheese is also known to contain ‘friendly’ bacteria that produce antibiotics that help kill Listeria – a food poisoning-causing bacteria.

In terms of macronutrient ratios, both cheeses have relatively similar nutrition.

Therefore, if you are watching your calorie intake or trying to limit saturated fats in your diet, feta could be a better choice. However, if you’re looking for a higher protein content, goat cheese might be more suitable.

Remember, moderation is key when consuming any type of cheese due to its high fat and sodium content. It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or a dietitian to understand what fits best into your individual diet plan.

>> Click here to read our in-depth guide on Chèvre (goat cheese)

What Can I Use Feta Cheese For?

Feta is incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Here are the 10 most common ways:

  1. In Salads: Feta is most commonly used in salads. The classic Greek salad includes feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, olives, and a simple vinaigrette.
  2. With Bread: Spread some feta on warm bread or toast for a delicious snack. You can also drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle some herbs on top.
  3. In Baked Goods: Crumble some feta into your muffin or scone batter before baking, or sprinkle it on top of bread dough.
  4. In Sandwiches and Wraps: Add some feta to your sandwiches or wraps for a burst of flavor.
  5. As a Pizza Topping: Instead of or in addition to mozzarella, sprinkle some feta on your pizza before baking it.
  6. In Pasta Dishes: Can be used in pasta dishes, either melted into the sauce or crumbled on top as a garnish.
  7. In Grain Dishes: Add some feta to your quinoa, rice, or couscous dishes.
  8. As a Snack: Enjoy feta on its own, or with some crackers. It’s also delicious when paired with fruit like watermelon or grapes.
  9. In Egg Dishes: Crumble some feta into your scrambled eggs, omelettes, or frittatas.
  10. Marinated: Marinate cubes or slices of feta in olive oil, herbs, and spices, then use it as a spread or in salads.

The Differences Between Feta and Mozzarella

FetaMozzarella
OriginGreeceItaly
Traditional Milk SourceSheep or Goat’s MilkBuffalo or Cow’s Milk
FlavorTangy, Sharp, Slightly SaltyMild, Milky
TextureCrumbly, Somewhat GrainySoft, Moist, Stretchy when Melted
Common Uses in RecipesSalads, Mediterranean Dishes, Baked GoodsItalian Cuisine, Pizza, Pasta Dishes
Fat Content (per 100g)12Approx. 21.5gApprox. 22.3g
Protein Content (per 100g)12Approx. 14.2gApprox. 22.2g
Calories (per 100g)12Approx. 264Approx. 280

7 best Feta substitutes (alternatives)

SubstituteDescription
Goat CheeseIt has a similar crumbly texture to feta but is less salty. The creamy and tangy flavor makes it a good substitute in salads or baked dishes.
Ricotta SalataThis is a saltier, more solid version of ricotta. It’s not as tangy as feta, but its crumbly texture makes it a decent substitute, especially in salads.
HalloumiWhile it’s less crumbly than feta, halloumi has a similar salty flavor. It’s best used as a feta substitute in cooked dishes, as it holds up well to heat.
Queso FrescoThis fresh Mexican cheese has a mild flavor that’s less tangy than feta. Its crumbly texture makes it a good substitute in a variety of dishes.
RoquefortA French blue cheese that is tangier and more intense in flavor than feta. It can be crumbled like feta and used in salads or on top of dishes for a unique flavor twist.
CotijaAnother Mexican cheese, cotija is dry and crumbly with a strong, salty flavor. It can be used in much the same way as feta.
Tofu (for vegan option)Tofu can be marinated and crumbled to mimic the texture and flavor of feta. It’s a great vegan alternative for feta in salads or Mediterranean dishes.

What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Feta Cheese?

Benefits:

  1. Rich in Nutrients: Feta cheese is packed with various essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins B6 and B12.
  2. Lower Fat Content: Compared to many other cheeses, feta has a lower fat and calorie content, making it a healthier choice for those watching their intake.
  3. Contains Probiotics: Feta cheese contains beneficial bacteria due to the fermentation process, which can promote gut health.
  4. Versatile: Its unique flavor profile makes feta a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, from salads and pastas to baked goods.

Drawbacks:

  1. High in Sodium: Feta cheese is stored in brine, making it high in sodium. Excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
  2. Potential Allergens: Feta is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, which can cause allergic reactions in some people who are sensitive to these types of milk.
  3. Not Suitable for Vegans: Like all cheeses, feta is a dairy product and is not suitable for those following a vegan diet.
  4. Lactose Content: While the lactose content in feta is lower than in many other cheeses, it may still cause problems for individuals who are lactose intolerant.

Also read: Savor the Flavor: 20 Cheeses with the Least Lactose

Top 3 Simple & Delicious Feta Recipes Idea

1. Feta Salad With White Beans and Lemon Relish:

Feta Salad With White Beans and Lemon Relish

This refreshing salad combines the creaminess of white beans with the tangy flavor of feta cheese, all brought together by a zesty lemon relish. It’s a light and nutritious option for a quick lunch or dinner.

>> Click for the recipe

2. Baked Feta:

Baked Feta

An incredibly easy appetizer or snack, baked feta involves baking a block of feta cheese until it’s soft and spreadable. You can add herbs, spices, or a drizzle of honey for added flavor.

>> Click here for the recipe

3. Greek Wedge Salad:

Greek Wedge Salad

This twist on a classic wedge salad uses Greek flavors like feta cheese, olives, and a Greek-style vinaigrette. It’s a great side dish for any meal.

>> Click here for the recipe

What goes well with Feta?

Food that goes well with Feta

CategoryFoods
BreakfastSalsa, eggs, black beans, cilantro
Lunch/DinnerSteak, chicken, tofu, fish, salads, soups, seafood, vegetables
VegetablesArtichoke, asparagus, avocado, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cucumber, eggplant
FruitsWatermelon, figs, pears, grapes
GrainsQuinoa, bulgur, couscous
Herbs/SpicesBasil, mint, oregano
DessertsHoney, walnuts
SidesGreek fries, flatbread
SaladsSpinach, olive and feta salad with oregano salsa verde

Also read: What Fruit Goes on a Charcuterie Board?

Beverage that goes well with Feta

Sure, here’s a table of the best beverages that pair well with Feta cheese according to categories:

CategoryBeverages
WineAssyrtiko (Santorini or elsewhere in Greece), Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé), Beaujolais/Gamay, Unoaked Moschofilero, Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch, South Africa), Pinot Grigio
Non-AlcoholicTea, Coffee, Hot chocolate, Lemonade, Soda
BeerLight lagers, Wheat beers
SpiritsOuzo (a traditional Greek anise-flavored spirit)

The history of Feta

Feta cheese has a rich history dating back to Ancient Greece. Its name, derived from the Italian word ‘fetta’, means ‘slice’. This name was given in the 17th century, but the cheese has been around for much longer.

The earliest references to feta-like cheese date back to the 8th century B.C., when the poet Homer mentioned that the Cyclops Polyphemus was making cheese from sheep’s milk. The cheese-making process described in Homer’s Odyssey is similar to the process used to produce feta cheese today.

In the Byzantine Empire, there are records of cheeses being aged in brine, which is a key element in the production of feta. By the time of the Venetian domination (1204-1669), literature provided information about the special, tangy cheese in the regions of Epirus and Thessaly.

Feta cheese has been closely associated with Greece and its culture. In fact, in 2002, feta was granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Union. This means that only those cheeses manufactured in a traditional way in certain areas of Greece, using sheep’s milk or a blend of sheep’s and up to 30% of goat’s milk can be called ‘feta’.

Today, feta cheese is enjoyed worldwide for its unique tangy flavor and crumbly texture. It remains an essential ingredient in Greek cuisine and is often used in salads, pastries, and pies.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Long Does Feta Last in the Fridge?

The shelf life of feta cheese in the refrigerator can vary depending on the packaging and how it’s stored.

Feta Cheese TypeShelf Life
Unopened Feta CheeseUp to 6 months
Opened Feta Cheese Blocks (Sealed and Refrigerated)5 to 7 days
Opened Feta Cheese Blocks (Submerged in Brine)More than a month
Opened Feta Cheese Crumbles5 to 7 days
Feta Cheese After Expiration DateAbout 2 weeks

2. Does Feta Cheese Melt?

Contrary to many other types of cheese, feta does not melt due to its higher acid content.

While it can soften and become gooey when heated, it doesn’t achieve the stringy, melted consistency that cheeses like mozzarella do.

3. Does Feta Need to be Cooked?

Feta cheese is a versatile ingredient that can be used in various ways, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be cooked.

Many people enjoy feta cheese raw, often crumbled over salads, spread on bread, or added to sandwiches for a tangy flavor boost.

However, cooking feta can also bring out a different dimension of its flavor and texture. For example, it can be baked in a high-heated oven until tender or fried and drizzled with warmed honey.

4. Is Feta Cheese Sweet or Salty?

Feta cheese is widely recognized for its rich, tangy, and notably salty flavor.

This distinct taste primarily stems from its production and preservation process, where it’s typically stored and cultured in a brine solution.

The brine not only gives feta its characteristic salty taste but also serves to inhibit bacteria and mold, thereby extending the cheese’s shelf life.

Also read: Science of Cheesemaking: Bacteria, Mold & Yeast

5. Is Feta Cheese Good or Bad Fat?

Feta cheese is generally considered to be a good source of fat when consumed in moderation, due to its lower fat content compared to many other cheeses.

It’s also rich in nutrients like B vitamins, phosphorus, and calcium which can contribute positively to your health.

Also read:

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