What Is Feta Cheese and What Is It Really Made from?

Feta is much more than just something to put into a Greek salad. It’s one of the oldest known cheeses in the gosh darn world. Let’s find out more about the soft, crumbly, briney cheese. 

What is feta cheese and where is it from?

The origins of feta cheese can be traced all the way back to 8th century BCE Greece, which is of particular interest to someone who was a Classics major in college (see, mom, it’s not totally useless). There are references to cheesemaking in Homer’s Odyssey, and many Greek literary and gastronomical scholars point to this as evidence that feta cheese has been around that long.

Specific documentation of the cheesemaking process that mirrors the modern feta process can be found in a 2nd century BCE book by Cato the Elder, who wrote about food traditions of the Mediterranean. His descriptions of feta cheese and its processes are practically the same as they are today.

Feta cheese is, in fact, so Greek that the European Union has labeled it as a Protected Designation of Origin, meaning that the term “feta cheese” should only be applied to the cheese made in Greece because of the way it’s produced, the types of animals that are used to produce it, and other specific geographical distinctions that make feta cheese unique to Greece. It truly is a national cheese!

What is feta cheese made from? Is feta goat cheese?

Traditional feta cheese is made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk. So, for everyone wondering, is feta cheese dairy? You bet it is. Once the milk is heated, enzymes are added to it to separate the milk into curds and whey. The curds are then wrapped in a cheesecloth and producers squeeze out the whey. This is pretty typical of a lot of cheesemaking processes.

What is unique to feta cheese is what comes next. Once the curds are solidified into a block, the whole thing goes through a brining process. Brining or pickling is a way to preserve a food longer and give it a very distinct taste. The curds are usually dry-brined first in salt and then placed in a wet brine for several months. The whole process gives feta its crumbly texture and mild salty taste.

There are feta cheeses that are made outside of Greece, and their ingredients and processing may be different. There are even feta cheeses on the market that are made with cow’s milk. So always make sure to check your labels if you are looking to have an authentic feta cheese experience.

Is feta cheese healthy?

Like most cheeses, feta cheese is a fine source of calcium and protein. The water brining process actually comes with both positives and negatives. Most cheeses are pretty high in fat. However, because there is more water in feta cheese, its fat content is usually lower. On the other hand, feta cheese has a much higher salt content than other cheeses, so if that’s something you are trying to watch in your diet, feta cheese might not be the best choice.

How should I use feta cheese?

The best way to experience feta cheese is in traditional Greek cuisine like spanakopita or tiropita. It also pairs nicely with other Greek food staples like olives, lamb gyros, and cucumber salads. Outside of Greek cuisine, it is a great topping on any salad and goes well in an omelet. Of course, you can also make that viral TikTok pasta with it. And it’s also just really good on its own. Have a block of feta cheese on your table and it will complement most vegetable and meat dishes. Get creative!

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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