Stroll through the dairy section in almost any grocery store and, perched on the shelves above the bricks of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, you'll find an assortment of briny feta. And despite the fact that I buy feta regularly, I think it's safe to say that making a choice isn't always easy.
From blocks versus crumbles, to plain versus marinated, here's what to know about buying feta at the grocery store.
1. They're mostly all Greek-style feta.
Most of the feta cheese you come across in the grocery store dairy case is Greek-style feta, rather than true Greek feta, and include brands like Alouette, Athenos, President, and Treasure Cave, among others. U.S.-produced feta found on the grocery store shelves is widely made with cow's milk, and has a flavorful, sharp taste that's briny and tangy.
Cow's milk feta tends to have a more mild flavor and a drier texture, which makes it great for crumbling. It can easily be used in all the same ways as true Greek feta.
Learn more: 5 Tips for Buying the Greek Feta of Your Dreams
2. True Greek feta is made with sheep's milk.
True Greek feta is made from sheep's milk. Some varieties will also mix in goat's milk, although you'd be more likely to find these in a specialty cheese shop or cheese counter than your grocery store's dairy case.
3. It's better to buy a block of feta than crumbles.
Given the choice between buying a block of feta or the crumbles, always stick with the block. Crumbled feta is convenient, I will not argue with that, but these containers usually contain powdered cellulose or some other form of anti-caking agent, which make for crumbles that can taste dry and rather hard. Crumbled feta is also likely to have a shorter shelf life than a block.
4. Buy blocks in brine, if you can.
You're likely to see blocks of feta sold a few different ways: simply wrapped in plastic, in a container with brine, and in a container with no brine. Of the three, your best bet is the block of feta sold in a brine. This liquid protects the cheese from exposure to air, which will cause it to dry out and could make it taste sour. The brine keeps it protected. Stored in brine, the cheese should stay moist and fresh for up to three months.
5. Marinated feta is perfect for pairing with something plain.
In addition to those plain containers of feta, you're also likely to find marinated feta, infused with ingredients like garlic, herbs, and sun-dried tomatoes. There's a time and place for marinated feta, and because of its strong flavor, it's best reserved for dressing up a snack board, giving life to a pot of plain grains, or even partnering with a plain omelet.
6. The way you'll use it is the best indicator of what kind to buy.
With all the options in the dairy case, figuring out the best one to buy can feel tricky. To make it easier, think first about how you'll use it. Here are some examples.
- Cooked: Anytime you're using feta for cooking, and especially when you want the cheese to melt, a block of feta is your best bet.
- Cold and room-temperature salads: While we do like a block over crumbled feta, anytime you're using the cheese is a chilled dish or one that's not getting cooked, like salads, grain bowls, and wraps, the convenience of crumbles maybe be worth the price and shorter shelf life.
- Dip: Since crumbled feta contains an additive to prevent it from clumping together, a block of feta is the best choice when blending it into a dip or whipping it into a creamy spread.
- Snack and cheese boards: Feta might not be a traditional choice for a cheese board, but it still works and it's a fine time to pick up that package of marinated feta you've been wanting to try.