May 21

Feta Cheese – A Comprehensive Guide

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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Across the world, many cultures have independently developed a style of fresh table cheese. While you may be familiar with examples like sirene, quarg, or queso blanco, feta is the best-known worldwide.

Since its invention in the 11th century, it has become nearly synonymous with Greek cuisine, and recently its popularity has expanded far beyond the tiny island of its origin.

Below we've created a comprehensive guide to everything feta cheese. Enjoy!

What is Feta Cheese?


mediterranean-Salad-with-feta-cheese

While it was traditionally made from 100% sheep’s milk, modern feta may include up to 30% goat’s milk. Feta is a fresh cheese; it does not undergo any aging process and is eaten soon after it is made (similar to ricotta and cream cheese).  

Intensely salty and crumbly, feta sometimes appears as a soft white block covered in olive oil and herbs. More commonly, you are likely to see it crumbled on salads or Greek dishes.

Freezing Fresh Cheeses

Because fresh cheeses depend on a higher level of moisture, freezing cheeses like ricotta, cottage, feta and cream cheese can force them to lose their unique texture. We only recommend freezing these cheeses if you plan on using their for heated recipes. 

Which Country has the Right of Sole Producer of Feta Cheese in Europe?


beautiful-view-in-Greece

Certain regions in Greece solidified the right to PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) production feta cheese in 2002.

Greece has feuded repeatedly with both Germany and Denmark over these countries’ flaunting of the 2002 decision.

They continue to sell and export cheese labeled as “feta” despite a 2005 European Court of Justice decision reaffirming that feta-like cheese made outside of Greece must be marked as “salad cubes,” “fresh cheese”, or ‘white cheese” (permission to call it “feta-style was granted in 2013).

Court disputes continue even today!

How is Feta Cheese Made?


person-waiting-in-line-for-cheese

Feta production begins by acidifying milk with lactic acid bacteria and then coagulating the acidified milk with rennet.

When a curd forms, cheesemakers cut the curd into characteristically large pieces; large curds maintain more moisture in the cheese.

The curd pieces rest at around 35°C (95°F) for an hour, and then they are drained, allowing the curds to “knit” or congeal into a homogenous mass.

Finally, cheesemakers store the blocks of drained curd in a salty brine for around 12 hours; the concentration of the brine determines how much salt the curds take up.

You may eat this feta immediately! Packaged feta often contains a small amount of brine. This helps feta retain its full-bodied flavor, while the salt in the brine acts as a preservative. 

Different Kinds of Feta Cheese?


avocados-with-tomato-feta-salad-inside
  • Authentic Greek feta: Nearly always packaged for export as a brick floating in salt-rich brine, PDO-protected Greek fetas are made from sheep’s and goat’s milk. Their tart, gamey note marks them as distinctly Mediterranean, and their chalky texture is a distinction, not a defect.
  • American-style feta crumbles: Often sold dry and pre-crumbled, American-style feta is likely to be based on cow’s milk and have a milder flavor with a bitter aftertaste.
  • Other European “feta”: Many European countries produce a feta-style cheese, and unique, recognizable features mark each one. For example, French feta-style cheeses are milder and more spreadable, while Danish “feta” is made using ultrafiltering techniques (UF).

Feta Cheese Substitutes?


question-mark-bush-on-island

While there is no cheese quite like feta in a traditional spanakopita or tiropita recipe, some other fresh cheeses have similar properties and may be equally satisfying on a cheese plate or a pizza.

  • Chevre or goat cheese: Made from goat’s milk, chevre is tart, salty, creamy, and spreadable. While it does not crumble as well as feta, the parallels in flavor will immediately be evident.
  • Queso fresco or queso blanco: This very soft cheese replicates the crumbly texture of feta, but it may fall apart upon melting, and it often isn’t as tangy or as heavily brined. 
  • Halloumi: Traditionally used as a grilling cheese, halloumi’s rubbery texture is more resistant to melting than feta; however, fresh halloumi makes an excellent substitute for fresh feta in uncooked applications.

What does Feta Cheese taste like?


small-jars-of-vegetables-and-feta

Feta’s taste is dependent upon the grazing habits of the sheep and goats from which it comes.

Both of these species produce zesty, fatty milk, so feta has a reliably sharp bite. Another fascinating aspect of feta is its unique texture. Easily crumbled by hand, it is also firm enough to slice.

It melts well but also holds up to grilling when placed on direct heat. It somehow finds a way to fit seamlessly wherever its placed. (yes, with obvious limitations). 

Feta Cheese Pairings


fresh-cup-of-raspberries

As a Mediterranean staple, feta combines beautifully with other Mediterranean flavors. Try it drizzled with olive oil; rosemary or thyme make a well-balanced accompaniment.

Despite its salty character, feta offsets sweets nicely. It is often served alongside melons, and other sweet but juicy fruits like strawberries also work well.

Unlike aged cheeses, which work best alongside dry fruits, feta’s high salt content means that fresh fruits are the ideal pairing partner. Another surprisingly satisfying pairing with feta is honey!  

The combination of sweet and salty makes a memorable blend. 

Best Feta Cheese Brands


  • Most of the feta found in U.S. grocery stores is not PDO-protected Greek feta but rather fresh cow’s-milk cheese made in the feta style. This includes well-known and respected brands like Athenos and Presidente.
  • Authentic Greek feta is now widely available outside of Greece. It is nearly always sold as blocks (not crumbles), and you’ll find it floating in a small amount of brine. Look for brands like Greco and Megval.

Where to Buy Feta Cheese?


cheese-shop

Thanks to its recent surge in popularity, both American-style feta and authentic Greek feta are widely available in many grocery stores.

You may even find French, Danish, or Bulgarian versions!  

Many supermarket delis have a stand-alone refrigerated cheese kiosk; this is where you are most likely to find blocks of authentic Greek feta.

If your feta curiosity is not satisfied in the supermarket, this cheese is also easy to find online.

Online retailers like amazon.com, igourmet.com, and murrayscheese.com offer numerous feta options. If you are interested in a specific Greek brand, it is nearly always possible to have their product shipped if you visit their website.

How Long is Feta Cheese Good For?


open-refrigerator

Because it is a high-moisture fresh cheese, feta DOES NOT have the impressive shelf life of aged cheeses.

An unopened block of feta packaged in brine solution comfortably lasts two months (with the right fridge), but you should use it within a week once opened.

Block-form feta without the advantage of a brine solution (shrink-wrapped or packaged as a brick) lasts about a month unopened in the fridge; these bricks only last around five days once opened.

Without the brine solution to preserve them, this type of block may  also be prone to drying out.

American-style feta crumbles last several weeks if the package remains sealed, but they dry out quickly. Use them within five days after opening the container.

How to Make Feta Cheese?


Unlike hard cheeses, which often involve advanced cheesemaking practices (think cheddar or parmesan!), feta is an excellent beginner’s cheese to make at home.

Check out the excellent guides at The Spruce Eats and cheesemaking.com for instructions on how to make feta-style cheese at home.

Through cheesemaking.com, you can also order any supplies (such as rennet, cheesecloth, thermometers, or cultures) that you may need.

How Many Calories in Feta Cheese?


crumbled-feta-with-bell-peppers

The calories and fat content in feta depends on its brand and style. Moisture content, type of milk used, and even time of year can cause these factors to vary considerably.

Overall, feta is considered one of the healthier cheese options, despite its high sodium content.

It is nutrient-dense and high in several vitamins and iron. One ounce (28g) of most feta or feta-style cheeses has around 75 calories with 5 to 6 grams of fat; this includes 4 grams of protein.

Keep in mind that authentic Greek fetas are likely to be slightly higher in fat since sheep’s milk and goat’s milk are fattier than cow dairy. 

Conclusion


This highly recognizable cheese shows up in traditional Greek and Mediterranean recipes, but it is a great way to introduce novel flavors and textures into old standbys like pizza, burgers, and burritos.

Versatile and delicious, feta is sure to bring some new ideas to your kitchen! 

Leave a note if you have any questions/comments.

Thanks!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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