According to statistics published in the HuffPost and elsewhere, Greeks eat more cheese per capita than any other country in the world. Why? Because Greeks eat Feta. Feta, one of the most recognizable Greek foods, actually got its name from the Italian "fetta" meaning, “slice” in the 1700's presumably from the practice of slicing the cheese in order to barrel and ship it. Ubiquitous on Greek tables sliced, cubed or crumbled, feta is eaten with nearly every Greek dish--salads, beans, greens, fruit, meat, stews, dessert. This brined, white, semi-soft cheese pronounced FE-tuh, is made today as it was in Greece thousands of years ago and described by Homer in Book 9 of the Odyssey by the Cyclopes Polyphemos.
Making feta is similar to making most cheese--milk is heated and coagulated with an enzyme, usually rennet, then salted and placed in molds to drain and finally placed in brine to "finish". Brine is often whey--the liquid that remains after straining the curds. It takes a minimum of two months to cure feta. Brining firms up the cheese, imparts its characteristically salty flavor and prevents the cheese from spoiling. Sea water was originally used to brine feta. Even though Feta is considered a "fresh" cheese with no rind, Feta can be aged. Longer aging in brine makes Feta drier, firmer, and more crumbly. To reduce the salty flavor, feta can be soaked in plain water for an hour, over night or up to three days as we do at the Gardens when we make our Tyro Salata, Feta Ricotta Boughatsa and our specialty desserts.
Made most often from sheep's milk, feta can be made with up to 30% goat's milk as determined by the PDO (Protected Designations of Origin, 2002). Greek feta, by designation IS pasteurized and contains 45% cream. In the U.S. and other regions outside the EU, feta is made with pasteurized cow's milk or any combination of milk--buffalo, yak, even camel. In the U.S. "feta" cheese is most commonly pasteurized and therefore, contrary to the warning of the medical establishment, is as safe as milk for pregnant women.