Feta isn’t hard to find in the US, provided you like yours on the light and tasteless side. Most American supermarkets sell it in blocks or, if you’re too lazy to do it yourself, precrumbled. The cheese is generally stored dry, or with such little brine that its taste and texture suffer. Fortunately, there are still Greek restaurants that are capable of getting better quality product imported directly from the homeland. Suffice it to say, though, that good feta is in short supply.
When Grégory from Libert brought the feta out, I was pleased to see him carefully extract a large plastic container covered in Hellenic text from the refrigerated shelves in the store’s back corner. He set it down and gently opened the top to reveal large slabs of feta immersed in its salty brine. One of the reasons he particularly liked this brand, he explained, was that the producer aged the cheese in oak barrels which imparted a mellow, woody, almost sweet flavor in addition to its characteristic rich saltiness.
One of my favorite recipes for feta is to make variations on Greek salads. Feta and tomatoes (especially fresh tomatoes) go perfectly together. Sometimes I’ll add razor thin ribbons of red onion or chunks of cucumber if I’m serving lots of people. Dressing is as simple as splashing on some red wine vinegar followed by some extra virgin olive oil. For herbs, loads of fresh dill is a treat, but oregano and even herbes de Provence are just as good.
About the Cheese
Milk: Sheep, made from curds
Firmness: Semi-hard, but crumbly
Defining characteristics: Sold in pressed blocks and packed in a salty brine. The cheese I tried had been aged in oak barrels, which gave it a deliciously subtle woody sweetness.
Traditional accompaniments: Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers in salads. In hot dishes, Greek bake it in phyllo pockets by itself (tiropita) or with spinach (spanakopita) , top pizza with it, and even bake it on top of main dishes.!
Origin: Greece, though similar cheeses can be found in several eastern Mediterranean countries.
Special Facts: Feta is a product that, per EU regulation, has a “protected designation of origin” (PDO), which the French call AOP or “appellation d'origine protégée”
Recipes: Feta is perfect in salads, especially with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. It features in a host of traditional Greek dishes like tiropita and spanakopita, and can be added without hesitation to pizzas, sandwiches, and eggs!