Friday, 11 January 2008

Feta cheese (Φέτα)

How do you pick a good feta cheese? I suppose most people will tell you that it's a matter of personal taste: you taste a few brands, eg FAGE or DODONI (we don't all live close to producers!), you compare their taste (salty, mild), add to this your personal preference (hard, dry, moist) and maybe your own dietary requirements (goat or sheep milk). I suppose you might think I've got the best choice of feta available to me because I live in Fetaland, but I actually need to go to a specific supermarket to get the feta I want to buy for our liking. For a start, feta is NOT a traditional cheese of Crete; therefore, we cannot call Cretan-made white cheese 'feta'.

The original feta is the barrel-aged kind. That means that the milk is turned into a cheese in a barrel. If it's made in a barrel, it's got to look sort of round (if it's cut out of a barrel), not square, which shows it was made in a plastic container (easy to clean, easy to store, but NOT original). Even though the labelling might say "traditionally-made", "name-of-origin-protected", it may not necessarily be made in the traditional manner, so it can't have the original taste or texture. Feta should be slightly salty, to the point that you feel you haven't added it to the cheese. It should not taste of salt. It should also be a firm cheese that breaks off in chunks, not crumbles. It shouldn't have a solid look to it; the cheese should have cavities cavities running in it, like an eroded rock. Finally, feta should be moist, not watery. you should be able to bite it; it should not feel like a sponge. Feta is usually stored in its own brine. When you take it out, it needs to be rinsed free of this liquid, then drained before being placed on a plate for serving.

We buy FETA PLATAION, one of three barrel-aged feta cheese brands regularly available at a large Athens-based supermarket chain. We never buy square pieces of feta; it should always have an irregular shape. The small block in the photo is made by a large Greek dairy company; it is not barrel-aged. I must admit it tasted almost as good as the feta we prefer, the larger block in the photo, which is made in an area well known for feta production in the central Greek mainland. Therefore, for me to eat this cheese, I am adding to my carbon footprints. But people all over the world have always traded with their neighbours, so this is one kind of non-local food that I would be prepared to trade with our greek neighbours; I would recommend our stamnagathi (spiny chicory) as a suitable trading product. For more advice about how to buy good feta, read Nancy Gaifyllia's advice.

And how do you enjoy it? Drizzle a little olive oil over a small piece of cheese, and sprinkle some oregano on it. Take a paximadi (rusk) or some village bread - ambrosia!

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See also:
Taste sensationalism
To eat or not to eat?