A New Focus On Feta

Celebrating the most popular Greek cheese

A New Focus On Feta

For the lucky, such as Greek-American chef and cookbook author Michael Psilakis, Feta cheese has held a long celebrated place in the kitchen and in cuisine since childhood.

“My memories of Feta growing up are very vivid,” he says. “It was always on the kitchen table, and I was always grabbing a little piece. As the seasons changed, there was something different next to it. In the summer, there was watermelon. The sweet watermelon of summer with the salty, briny, tangy flavor of Feta cheese — it was like a roller coaster of flavor in your mouth.”

>> Check out these tasty recipes courtesy of Feta PDO: Stuffed Peppers with Feta PDO and Sweet Potato Fritters with Feta PDO

But too many cheese lovers raised outside the Greek food tradition have dismissed Feta after less exhilarating encounters, often as the dry chunks or sprinkles atop lackluster, vinegary salads. Emilie Villmore, the Cheese Wiz at Bacco’s Wine + Cheese in Boston, was one of those people. “I had this dry, crumbly image in my head. Salt was all I’d ever tasted when I tasted Feta.”

[media-credit name=”Essex St. Cheese” align=”alignleft” width=”300″]Making Feta Cheese[/media-credit]

And then Rachel Juhl, education leader at Essex St. Cheese in Long Island City, NY, introduced her to a creamy, moist sheep’s milk Feta from Tastanis, a creamery on the island of Lesbos. “It’s the first Feta I’ve fallen head over heels for,” says Villmore. “I thought, ‘This is what Feta’s supposed to be like.’ I get why everyone loves it.”

Dr. Christos Apostolopoulos, president of the Greek Federation of Dairy Industries in Athens, says Greece exports 45 percent of all the Feta it produces, sending 3,000 tons of it to the United States each year. Feta, which means ‘slice’ in Greek, is a Protected Designation of Origin product in the European Union, which means that, in order to be called Feta, the cheese must be made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk (no more than 30 percent), and must be produced in Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, Sterea, Peloponnese or Lesbos Island.

As to the taste, says Villmore, “It’s fun because the first thing you notice is the texture, which is a little bit crumblier. It’s creamy, moist with a bright citrus note on the front. Very gently, it gets a saltiness that lingers on the palate in a good way.”

[media-credit name=”Essex St. Cheese” align=”alignright” width=”300″]Fresh Feta[/media-credit]

Juhl explains because the sheep are “100 percent grazing on this volcanic soil, it has a sweet herbaceousness. It’s light in salt. The sheep’s milk gives it an incredibly creamy mouth feel. It has a beautiful, sweet flavor; not barny [of the barnyard].”

Among Feta enthusiasts, taste preferences vary wildly. “Think about a pickle, and how different pickles can be,” says Psilakis. “Some people like a soft pickle that’s not very acidic — mellow, calm, fresh. Some people want to squint when they eat the vegetable. I’m on the latter side.”

For his New York restaurants Kefi, Fishtag and MP Taverna, Psilakis sources his oak barrel-aged Feta, a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk, from Dodoni S.A., one of the top 10 Feta-producers in Greece. “It has a very sharp, very piquant, citrusy kind of flavor.”

While the PDO designation for Feta is a bit of a flashpoint between the EU and the United States, where there is no restriction on the labeling of American-made cheeses, the reality is cheese connoisseurs are enjoying plenty of Feta-style cheeses from countries such as France and Bulgaria, as well as America.

When Farr and Mojgan Hariri bought the Belfiore Cheese Co. in Berkeley, CA, in 1989, Farr had “a crazy idea” to make a domestic Feta using cow’s milk. He turned out to be not so crazy. His Feta has received multiple awards from the American Cheese Society and in 2002, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association named Belfiore’s the best domestic Feta.

[media-credit name=”Essex St. Cheese” align=”alignleft” width=”300″]Milking sheep[/media-credit]

Farr grew up in Iran, where “when you say cheese in Farsi, the Persian language, you really mean Feta. It’s a table cheese, served with bread, crackers and fresh or dried fruits. So of course I was always looking for good Feta. Everything I could find in the ‘80s was imported — Greek, Danish, Polish, Bulgarian. I couldn’t see any domestic varieties at that time.”

With California’s abundant milk supply at the ready, Hariri set to it. “We follow a recipe that is somewhere between Mediterranean-style Greek Feta and a Bulgarian Feta. It yields a very nice, pungent, I want to say characteristic flavor. And yet it is not too strong. We get the flavor profile — pungent and full-flavor — by a combination of different cultures we add to the cheesemaking process. The texture is very similar to Mediterranean-style Feta. It’s soft enough almost to the point where you can spread it on a piece of bread.”

[media-credit name=”Essex St. Cheese” align=”alignright” width=”300″]Sheeps Milk[/media-credit]

To Psilakis, Feta’s beauty is in its versatility. “At the restaurant level, we use Feta cheese a lot because it’s a very resilient cheese in multiple applications. You can eat it raw, you can grill it, you can deep-fry it. It’s wonderful on top of a casserole you’re going to be placing in the oven. It melts, but it doesn’t melt completely.”

At C’est Si Bon, a gourmet grocer and catering shop in Palm Beach, FL, zucchini pancakes with Feta, scallions and minced dill are the customer favorite among the dishes that incorporate Feta, according to Aris and Pat Voyer, who opened the shop in 1983.

C’est Si Bon offers two types of Feta for sale. Mt. Vikos organic Greek Feta, made from a blend of sheep and goats’ milk, “is traditional with a ‘bite’ — great on salads, omelets and pizza,” says Pat. Valbreso, a 100 percent pure sheep’s milk Feta from France, “is creamier and milder than traditional Greek Feta, though still crumbly and great on salads. It is also a great choice on a cheese board with figs, walnuts and a glass of port wine.”

Read more about Feta cheese here.


Recipe

Stuffed peppers with Feta PDO

Feta is a traditional and certified Greek cheese with high nutritional value and rich taste that goes well with almost all food products.

Look for the PDO sign (Protected Designation of Origin) which ensures the quality, the uniqueness and the authenticity of Feta.

>>Learn more at Feta PDO

Ingredients

  • 4 orange peppers
  • 95 g 1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 3/4 pint 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 handfuls of baby leaf spinach
  • 100 g 2/3 cup feta PDO cheese

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 190c.

Pour the vegetable stock into a saucepan with the quinoa. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the quinoa.

Whilst you’re waiting for the quinoa to cook, chop off the tops of the peppers (keep for later) and remove the seeds from inside. Then carefully carve jack-o-lantern faces into the orange peppers using a small knife.

Just before all the liquid is absorbed, add the onions and garlic to cook for 5 minutes. Add a little more water and reduce heat if it begins to dry out too quickly.

Then add the baby leaf spinach and let it wilt.

Take off the heat then crumble in the feta cheese. Stir and spoon into the peppers.

Put in the oven to cook for 15-20 minutes until piping hot and the skin of the pepper has softened.

Enjoy your meal!


Recipe

Sweet Potato Fritters with Feta PDO

Feta is a traditional and certified Greek cheese with high nutritional value and rich taste that goes well with almost all food products.

Look for the PDO sign (Protected Designation of Origin) which ensures the quality, the uniqueness and the authenticity of Feta.

>>Learn more at Feta PDO

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon torn fresh mint
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons torn fresh dill
  • 1 large scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced on the bias
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces feta cheese PDO coarsely chopped or crumbled
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Canola oil, for pan-frying
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Instructions

Grate sweet potatoes on the large holes of a grater onto a clean kitchen towel. Wring as much liquid out of the sweet potatoes as possible, discarding the liquid. 

In a medium bowl, combine sweet potato, mint, dill, scallion, garlic, feta and lemon zest. Stir in egg and flour and mix to combine.

In a large shallow pan, add enough canola oil to reach a depth of 1/4 inch (oil should come halfway up the sides of the fritters) and place over medium-high heat.

Form fritters by hand or using a 1/4 cup measure. In batches, fry fritters until golden-brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Serve fritters with a dollop of greek yogurt.

Enjoy your meal!


#cheese#Feta#Greek#recip#recipes
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Written by Joyce Reingold