Feta cheese is known as the Greek traditional cheese par excellence, and Greeks are the biggest cheese-eaters in Europe, with an annual per capita consumption of over 25 kgs. Archaeologists have found evidence on terracotta tablets that feta was produced in ancient Greece. Written records of the name feta date back to the 17th century. Apparently, it derives from the Latin word "fete", which refers to the practice of cutting the cheese into slices so that it can be placed in wooden barrels to age.

Today, as in ancient times, Greek feta is made from sheep's milk, plain or mixed with goat's milk. Other cheeses produced in other countries that use the name feta are usually made from cow's milk. The Greeks prefer sheep's milk because of its exceptional taste, its natural white colour (achieved without the addition of artificial whitening agents), and its comparatively lower fat content. Feta doesn't need artificial whitening because sheep and goat's milk are not as fatty as cow's milk, and it is the fat that makes cheese turn yellow. Feta is white by nature, with a solid consistency and no - or just a few - small holes. It is a soft cheese with 56% maximum moisture content and 43% minimum fat content (dry weight). Feta is a rindless cheese with a slightly acidic taste and a strong, rich flavour.

The use of the name "feta" for other white cheeses is a matter of some political wrangling in the European Union. Inside Greece itself, feta production is governed by Greek legislation, and Greek law dictates that the milk for feta must come from specific geographic areas. In 1996 the European Commission recognized that the appellation feta qualifies for Protected Designation of Geographic Origin because, in their view, feta is a traditional and unique product which deserves protection. The Commission granted a grace period which would last until the year 2001 so that the other countries that produced white brine cheese from cow's milk and called it feta could change the name of their cheeses. However, a decision by the European Court, which passed by one vote, overruled the validity of this regulation. The matter thus remains open, and at present cheeses from many countries are sold throughout the world under the name feta. Many countries, including Bulgaria, Turkey, Albani, and Serbia, produce a product labelled as feta, though the Greeks resent the application of that appellation to these cheeses.

Greek feta cheese bears the Greek flag on its packaging. Sometimes it is labelled "bio" (organic), but even if it isn't, the Greeks insist that Greek feta is an organic product. Greek sheep and goats are not reared in pens, but graze freely in pastures on the rocky mountainsides and along island coastlands. They do not eat fodder, but rather wild greens, bushes, and tender tree branches. As Greece is mountainous and grazing grounds are limited, the flocks wander great distances to find enough grazing material. The animals' natural feeding patterns and high mobility enrich their milk with natural flavour and aromas and reduce its fat content.

Feta is widely used in Greek salad and in cooking. It is also quite lovely cubed and drizzled with a little olive oil, oregano, and salt and pepper.


Much of the information about feta production and the naming wars came from the very pro-Greek feta website,
www.triaina.com/ffg/greek_food/feta.htm

You can find out how to make Bulgarian feta at
www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/bdd/Bulgaria/recipes.html
but I can't vouch for this recipe, because I've never made it. I buy mine, and it's Greek, as it should be.

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