It's said that feta first made an appearance in Homer's Odyssey, when Ulysses saw Cyclops Polyphemus making it in his cave. While this legend may have stood the test of time, reality is much less fantastical.
The origins of feta
In truth, feta is a soft cheese made from sheep's milk, invented in Greece during antiquity. Its name comes from the Italian word “fetta”, which means “slice”, and dates back to the 17th century. However, Aristotle and Pythagoras had already described the making of this cheese under the name “phosphatos”, which means “fresh” in Greek.
From the 1930s on, feta grew in popularity outside of Greece and by the end of the 20th century, France was making around 22,000 tonnes per year. Germany and Denmark were also producing a lot, replacing sheep's milk with cow's milk. At the same time, feta-like cheeses were being produced all over the world, from Iran, to Australia, to East Africa.
It's said that in Greece, there are around 11 million residents, and nearly as many sheep. Greeks hold the world record for eating all kinds of soft and hard cheeses, with 28kg per person each year. Nowadays, Greece exports less than 30% of its total production, which is around 115,000 tonnes/year, so the country cannot meet all the demand.
Since 2002, feta is considered a Greek PDO cheese that must contain at least 70% sheep's milk, be kept in brine and produced in certain regions of Greece. There are also many cheeses made from goat's or cow's milk that are similar to and look like feta – from a regulatory point of view, these are known as “feta-style” cheeses.
Feta – just a passing trend?
Since as early as the 1930s, this cheese has found a fertile breeding ground in Eastern Europe, where feta production and consumption has prospered, in particularly in the 1960s. Nowadays, the cheese is well-known all over the world – in the United States, 45,000 tonnes of feta-style cheese is produced every year.
While French people swear by their national cheeses, Greek and Italian cheeses are the kings of their salads – feta for green salads, and mozzarella to go with tomatoes. Or at least, cheeses that are similar, as feta is a protected designation of origin that cannot be used for cheeses made in France. Sales of mozzarella and feta-style cheese have gone up by 10%, representing more than 3% of the French market today, versus 8% for Camembert and 14% for Emmental cheeses.
How do you make feta?
This Greek cheese is traditionally made by adding rennet to curds at a high temperature, and then chopping them up after they coagulate. It's the cheesemaker adding acidic micro-organisms which causes the curds to coagulate. After a few hours, the curds are cut up into 1 to 2 cm cubes and salted.
The cheese, cut into rectangular pieces weighing 1 to 2 kg, is then placed in wood or plastic barrels of 25 to 50 kg with brine added (generally 3 to 8% salinity). This first ageing phase takes place at room temperature, between 16 to 18°C, and lasts for 10 to 15 days. A second ageing phase then takes place for at least two months, at 2 to 4°C. The taste of Greek feta is easily recognisable – grainy, crumbly, salty, and acidic.
How can you make sure to get a maximum yield when producing feta?
At Armor Protéines, we have developed a range of solutions with our ingredients that will allow you to get a maximum yield when producing fresh cheeses like labneh, cream cheese and feta.
Our methods involve zero whey loss. Our 100% yield feta solution was designed so that you can reduce costs and manufacture without generating co-products. It is a 100% dairy solution, easy to use and quick to dissolve.
With this solution, you can use skim or full-cream milk in fluid or powdered form as a base. You can add fats such as butter, cream, dairy-based or vegetable fats. On the other hand, if you want to make light or fat-free cheeses, you can also use our solution. There is no need to invest in expensive equipment. A food processor and a homogenizer will suffice to make your cheeses, without having to modify your products.