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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Greek Feta

Greece has graced us with numerous gifts (democracy and philosophy to name a few), but the country has also contributed to the culinary scene with Feta, a briny cheese made from a combination of sheep and goat milk. While the first historical writings can trace Feta as far back as to the Byzantine Empire (330-1453 AD), artifacts from the 6th century BC provide even earlier references to the process of Feta cheese-making.  Greek mythology, however, indicates that the Cyclops of  Polyphemus invented Feta well before either of these periods.

The word “feta” has an interesting genealogy.  It is derived from the Italian word fetta which means “slice,” (thus, the word fettucine which is thinly sliced pasta). Fetta, in turn, is of Latin origin and means “bite” or “morsel.”  Whether Feta is of Greek or Italian origin, the cheese is now protected by European Union law and only cheeses made in specific areas of Greece can be called Feta.  Legal doctrine also dictates that Feta must be made from at least 70% sheep’s milk---the remainder must be goat.

Feta is made in large blocks and cured in a salt brine which accounts for the cheese’s salty profile (this can be lessened by washing the cheese).  After a two month period, Feta is available for sale but the blocks remain submerged in the brine even in the grocery store.  70% of all cheese consumed in Greece is Feta.  It is used as a table cheese and in everything from the famous Greek salads to pastries.  It is well known for its use in phyllo-based dishes such as spanakopita (a heavenly spinach pie) and tyropita (a divine cheese pie).  It can also be grilled, or served plain with a drizzle of olive oil and topped with oregano… wild oregano grows abundantly throughout Greece.

Those of you who have secured one of the coveted 12 spots on this Fall’s private yacht tour of the Greek islands (the trip is sold out with a long waiting list) will experience Feta in the above food specialties…all paired with well-crafted red wines from the Greek mainland.    The yacht’s chef will demonstrate how make several dishes with Feta and if you’re adventurous you’ll be able to join him shopping in port for Feta, as well as just-plucked from sea fish and garden fresh produce.


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