When you think of Greece, you may think of many things — warm Mediterranean weather, the Parthenon, perhaps — but I think of feta cheese. Greece is most definitely the motherland for this salty, tangy, oh-so crumbly cheese. Go visit the cheese aisle of your local grocery store and you'll most likely be greeted by a myriad of feta choices from Greece. So how do you choose the best one? Keep these tips in mind and you'll be able to find the feta that's right for you.
1. Ditch the crumbled stuff.
Sure, the containers of crumbled feta cheese are convenient, but you run the risk of not buying the freshest product. It's difficult to assess the quality of the feta when it's already crumbled up. The containers of crumbled feta also usually contain powdered cellulose or some other form of anti-caking agent, which make for crumbles that can taste dry and rather hard. Pre-crumbled feta also has a very short shelf life, only lasting a few days in your fridge once opened.
2. Instead, opt for blocks in brine.
The best bet is to buy a block of feta cheese that's in brine. A block will most definitely be fresher than the crumbles. But skip the blocks that are simply wrapped in plastic and instead, always pick the blocks that are sitting in a tub of brine. Feta should always be protected from exposure to air, which will cause it to dry out, and could make it taste sour. The brine keeps it protected. Keep it stored in its brine, and it will stay moist and fresh for up to three months.
3. Know what makes Greek feta different.
Scan the cheese aisle for feta that's from Greece — that's the easiest way to know you're buying the real deal. Although the EU restricted use of the name "feta" to Greece in 2005, this rule only applies Europe, which means if you live outside of Europe, you'll find plenty of cheese labeled "feta" in stores that are from many other corners of the globe. True feta is made in Greece from sheep's milk (and maybe some goat's milk), rennet, and salt. The milk from Greece actually is the secret to great feta, as it has a unique flavor that can't be replicated. Cow's milk feta, made in the U.S., is feta-style cheese rather than a true feta.
4. Look for sheep's milk or a combination of sheep's and goat's milk.
The trouble with authentic Greek feta cheese isn't tracking it down — Greek and Middle Eastern markets are good bets beyond your everyday grocery store — it's the price. It can be expensive. If you can't get your hands on it or are looking for a less pricey pick, at the very least, pick a feta that's made from all sheep's milk or a combination of sheep's and goat's milk. That will get you pretty close to the flavor and texture of Greek fetas.
5. Pick plain, not seasoned.
Look beyond the marinated feta and the sun-dried tomato feta. While tempting, the best feta of your life is the plain stuff. Seasonings and marinades can mask the true flavor of the cheese and, if you're buying the good stuff, you want to taste that flavor. The dried herbs and spices on the cheese can also become stale over time. Instead, if you love the taste of marinated feta, try marinating it yourself. It's actually quite simple to do and makes for an easy and impressive appetizer — give this recipe a try and just swap in feta.