About Feta Cheese

Feta is an aged cheese that originated in Greece, where it is eaten plain and used as an ingredient in regional cuisine. Popular dishes in Greece containing feta include several types of salads, most notably the Greek salad, and pastries such as spanakopita. In the United States, feta cheese is most commonly used crumbled in salads, but it may also be cooked on its own or added to hot dishes.

History

  • It is unknown when feta cheese was first produced, but the cheese was described in the latter half of the 15th century and had probably existed for some time. The Greek word feta was coined in the 17th century and literally means “slice”–it is believed to refer to the process of slicing the cheese before submerging it in brine for aging and storage. Feta was virtually unknown outside of Greece before the 20th century, when immigrants to other parts of the world brought feta-making techniques with them.

Types

  • Feta is typically sold in three forms: solid blocks, crumbles and packed in brine. The brine-packed type is most prized, not because keeping it in brine long-term improves the flavor but because this practice is most common among manufacturers of premium feta. Block feta cheese is drained and sealed in plastic before sale; crumbled feta is broken apart for the consumer’s convenience after draining and before packaging.

Features

  • Feta is a hard cheese that is aged in a brine solution made up of salted water or whey. It is quite acidic and has a strong salty, tangy flavor. Because of its strong flavor, feta cheese is typically used in smaller amounts than other cheeses. Unlike most popular cheeses, feta does not melt well when heated, although it does brown well. Feta cheese may be used crumbled or cubed in salads, and is often used to top hot and cold appetizers.

Considerations

  • Because feta cheese is aged in brine, it contains considerable sodium. A 1-oz serving of feta cheese contains about 319 mg of sodium, compared to 174 mg in the same amount of cheddar cheese. It also contains a significant amount of saturated fat (4 g) and cholesterol (25 mg). However, because smaller amounts of feta are required to flavor foods, it can be useful to people who wish to restrict their intake of saturated fat or calories.

Geography

  • The term feta cheese generally refers to a white cheese aged in brine that crumbles easily. However, out of concern that lower-quality cheeses were being labeled as feta, the European Union set regulations in 2002 to limit which versions of feta could be labeled as such. These regulations state that feta must be made from at least 70 percent sheep’s milk and the remainder must be goat’s milk. However, feta cheese sold outside of the European Union is often made partially or entirely from cow’s milk.