According to their mythology, the ancient Greeks were given the gift of cheese-making from Aristaios, the son of the gods Apollo and Cyrene. From its divine beginnings, cheese has continued to be a cherished part of Greek cuisine. Greeks eat more cheese per capita than any other European nation, averaging almost 59 pounds of cheese per year per person.
Greek cheese can be served alone, as an appetizer, fried, raw, fresh with fruit and honey, and as part of a myriad of dishes. Most Greek cheeses are made from sheep or goat milk, and are consequently whiter in color than cheeses from cow’s milk.
Cheese is often an integral part of a meze, a unique Greek tradition of food served with drinks that provides the backdrop for many boisterous Greek social gatherings.
Another dish that features cheese is saganaki, an appetizer of pan-seared cheese. The dish is named for the small frying pan in which it is made. Saganaki is made by moistening a slice of cheese with water and dredging in flour then frying with olive oil and squeezing lemon on top. It is generally made with kefalograviera, kasseri, kefalotyir, or feta.
Feta is by far the most famous Greek cheese and is one of the most popular cheeses worldwide. It is made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat milk. It is ripened and kept in brine for at least 2 months to give it the distinctive salty and slightly acidic taste and a unique crumbly texture. It is manufactured in the mountainous and semi-mountainous regions of Greece.
Feta can vary in texture from semi-soft to semi-hard and in flavor from mild to sharp. In addition to being the classic topping for a Greek salad, it can also be used in baked goods, casseroles, appetizers, and as a table cheese.
Feta is a protected food in the European Union. It must contain at least 70% sheep’s milk and must be made in certain regions of Greece. However, American cheese companies are not required to abide by these regulations and feta made outside of Greece may be different than true feta.
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