Feta is the bloodline of my household. It is a staple in the fridge to be consumed in one-block increments. Be it on a salad or inhaled alone, feta is more important to me than most family members.
The best feta is floating in brine (this is a fact, and I will not be taking comments at this time), not pre-crumbled in some plastic torture device.
Trader Joe’s has an especially perfect one albeit any time I attempt to open the fickle plastic lid, I am an inch closer to losing a finger. The danger of a punctured vein is just the reality we live in. The TJ’s option is, unfortunately, atrociously priced (six dollars and climbing) but I’d pay anything for a creamy, chunky, flavourful feta. When a particularly uninspired feta pasta recipe went viral on TikTok, there were a few weeks when said feta hadn’t been replenished at my local store. This, for me, was yet another reason to dislike TikTok.
It seems to me that other brands seem to remove any flavour from their feta. I attribute this to two things: lack of brine and, for whatever reason, the insistence of pre-crumbling the cheese. While convenience is certainly important when shopping and cooking, I implore you to reach for something a little more flavourful next time you spend time in a cheese aisle.
While you might think of feta as a predominantly Greek cheese, there are a few other varieties that are equally flavourful and delicious. But, it is important to note the other types of feta are to be used differently than your standard Greek cheese. The same way you would put shredded mozzarella on your pizza but not in your salad, you too should try using various regional fetas in different cooking scenarios.
I sought out answers from a cheese aficionado and culinary mastermind. Hilary Henderson is a professional chef who has worked with Wolfgang Puck for many years, including as the chef de cuisine of Cut Steakhouse in Beverly Hills.
Now she is a successful private chef and works part time at the iconic Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.
Greek vs Bulgarian vs French
When cooking with feta, it is imperative to understand the differences between Greek, Bulgarian and French. Henderson defines the three as such: “A definitive similarity of these cheeses lies in the ripening process by which blocks of cheese are held in a saltwater brine. They are all white, semi soft and crumbly yet creamy cheeses. I find the biggest differences are the salt content and the milk type between the three.”
She explains that French feta, made of 100% sheep’s milk, is the least salty of the three. Bulgarian may be made of sheep and/or goat, while Greek feta will be primarily sheep’s milk and sometimes up to 30% goat’s milk – both are a little saltier than French.
Henderson also explained that the feta you typically see crumbled in plastic containers at US supermarkets is most often skimmed cow’s milk, “which is why it’s dry and crumbly, which is less typical than the aforementioned types, which are wonderfully creamy with more fat content and mouthfeel.”
How to use each type of feta
“Bulgarian feta feels more dense to me, making it great for cooking and withstanding heat, like in a Bulgarian cheese pie called Banista or even in a frittata or scramble,” Henderson shares. “French feta is my go-to with roasted vegetables. Roasted sweet white corn with freshly chopped dill and crumbled or grated French feta is one of my all-time favourite summer dishes. French feta is also what I would use for simply spreading on crackers or a baguette with a drizzle of olive oil.”
My tried and true little buddy, Greek feta, can be great whipped – but I think it’s best used in chunks on top of your salad. A salty slab of cheese with an acidic onion or tomato makes for a great dish. Because this type of feta can be sharp, it’s best to let Greek feta take centre stage. Henderson shares her favourite way to cook with the OG: “Greek Feta, so savoury and salty, is great for cooking, too. I mean, spanakopita! But I also love it crumbled on a burger or tossed in a salad.”
How to find a good feta
Now that you are well versed in the world of feta cheese, it’s off to the store to find top quality options. Major grocery stores might have a few options, but take your time and read labels. And have no fear, each container should come with a clear label. Most markets will have a printed label with bold letters differentiating the region. Additionally, most Greek feta will have some type of image of an island, light blue lettering or other tipoffs that it’s Greek.
Also, take a peek around a hot bar or buffet-style section to see if anything is set out for the lunch rush. You might have the best luck at a higher-end chain such as Whole Foods or similar market-style grocers.
Additionally, Henderson recommends a local cheese store: “They would love for you to come try the feta, I’m certain. Also, at a cheese shop, they are likely buying in bulk and have more flexibility to slice cheese in quantities specific to your needs. I work at a cheese shop and we generally have these three types of feta in stock at all times. It is so much fun to try these cheeses side by side, note the similarities and differences and learn what you prefer!”
So, if you’re ready to try to add a new (albeit not completely foreign) cheese to your kitchen, start with Greek, French or Bulgarian feta. And if you want to avoid airlines, crowded planes, flight delays and lost baggage, just close your eyes with each bite. It’s essentially like being in Greece, right?