Feta cheese has been a part of Greece for nearly as long as humanity itself. It comes from the very first cheese around 8,000 years ago, which was made soon after people began domesticating animals. Historians believe that milk began to ferment while being transported in the stomach of a goat or sheep. The shepherds noticed that the new product lasted much longer than fresh milk—and cheese was born.
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.”
A specific cheese can instantly bring to mind an association: often of a place, region, country or dish. For me Raclette evokes thoughts of the snow-dipped mountains and hearth warmed chalets of Switzerland. Stilton makes me imagine the holiday season in England, with a glass of port to greet guests. And Manchego is as definitive of Spanish cheese as any I can think of, both here in the States and in the tapas spots throughout Spain. Some cheeses even take on, rightly or wrongly, the name of a place of supposed origin: Swiss cheese, not actually Swiss and American cheese, not actually cheese, come immediately to mind.