The European Union (EU) grants Protected Designation of Origin status for feta produced in a certain country. This helps to maintain the quality and standards of the cheese and preserve its authenticity. To date, Greece is the only country that has been granted this status. Consequently, feta cheeses made in other countries are not strictly considered to be ‘real’ feta cheese.
This article explores what it really means when Greek Feta is labelled as such and what you should know about it to make an informed purchase decision.
“Feta” is the generic name given to a number of white brined cheeses. The main flavor factor in most feta cheese is its saltiness, and various other flavors are added to the cheese to customize its taste. Feta is traditionally made from sheep or goat milk, and it has been made in Greece for thousands of years. However, since 2014, European legislation has required that all true Feta must be made from exclusively Greek milk, which means that there can be no ‘feta’ produced outside Greece that can legally be labelled as such.
The Fetas of Greece
There are a few different categories of Feta cheese. These are divided into those that are made from cow’s milk, and those that are made from sheep’s milk. The most commonly known Feta is ‘white Feta’, which is made in the Kefalonia island and it only uses water buffalo milk. However, more contemporary varieties of Feta actually use more than 50 types of cheese. This wide variety of cheeses comes from many different places, some being hard cheeses such as Parmesan and others softer cheeses such as Cheddar.
The quality of the different types of feta depends on where they were produced. This is because the flavour of a feta cheese is related to its origin. The quality of the milk is also an important factor. Generally, bovine feta cheeses are better than those made from humans milk. This is because the natural fats used give a creamy texture and a stronger flavour than when produced using cow’s milk.
Feta and marketing
The trademarked name ‘Feta’ actually comes from Greek, meaning ‘flat cheese’. Feta originates from the island of Kephalonia (now known as Ithaki), where it has been produced for over 2000 years. In fact, in 1894, the EU granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status to Feta produced on Kefalonia. This was in an effort to protect its authenticity. However, in 2014 the EU also removed the PDO status from Kefalonia and gave it instead to ‘block Feta’ which is produced throughout Greece instead.
This was done because of corruption and lobbying by large corporations that wanted access to a much larger market share. As a result of this change, ‘true’ Feta can only be found currently from one single island: Kefalonia. The main reason behind this is the Greek government’s desire to use Feta as a means of currency. A coffee can worth of feta sells for around $10 in Greece, and the government earns money from selling it. However, within days after the change, it became apparent that not only was there more feta on offer than ever before, but that it was also of a much higher standard than before. This was because Kefalonia now had fewer suppliers making high quality Feta and so feta producers from the mainland could not compete with the island’s products.
The reason that Kefalonia has such a strong hold on the feta market is because they have one main dairy plant in the region, which controls almost all of the milk production. This is because milk production in this area has been declining, with many farmers choosing to sell their cattle and convert to olive farming instead. Feta cheese serves as a way for these farmers to earn money without investing in expensive olive tree farms, and so the feta industry continues to thrive on Kefalonia.
The Benefits and Risks of Authentic Feta
Many people believe that real Greek Feta cannot be found outside Greece due to the high transportation costs involved.