Feta is a brined curd white cheese, the making of which was known to the Greeks since ancient times. Homer mentions feta in the Odyssey, naming Polyphemus, one of the Cyclopes, as a feta producer.
People of the Byzantine Empire used the word prosfatos. The name feta is of Italian origin (fetta) and comes from a 17th century reference to this type of cheese that was cut into slices and put into the barrels. The word fetta derives from another Latin word, offeta, which means "a small bite".
The first official records of the name feta in Greece are found at the end of the 19th century. Until then it was commonly known as white Greek cheese.
Feta is made from sheep's or goat's milk. Τhe latter is a mixture with up to 30% goat's milk. It has salty taste and is stored in brine or sour milk for two to three months. When removed from the brine, the cheese gains a compact touch and is commonly produced in blocks. There are various types of feta, traditionally categorised into firm and soft varieties. Taste also varies. Its fat ranges between 30-60%.
Feta has been as a protected designation of origin product in the European Union (PDO) and must be made in particular areas in Greece, should come from specific breeds of sheep and goats and the production must follow the traditional preparation process. The case was closed in 2005, following the rejection of the last action lodged by Denmark against the exclusivity of the name.
Legislation dictates that areas allowed to produce feta with the approved indication are all of mainland Greece and the island of Lesvos. In all other places a cheese similar to feta should carry the name white cheese, while in Kefalonia the used term is barrel cheese.
Feta is one of the basic ingredients of the Greek salad and a popular side dish. It is also used in pies like spinach pie and cheese pie. An old time classic Greek snack consists of bread, oil and feta.
In terms of nutrients, feta has significant amounts of vitamins A and K, folic acid, pantothenic acid, iron and magnesium.
Additionally, feta is lower in fat and calories, unlike other aged cheeses and contains more B vitamins than any other fresh cheese. Feta is also a high calcium, phosphorus-rich and a high protein food, elements that contribute to better bone health.
It has also been proved that feta boosts the immune system and supports gut health.
People with allergies or people with lactose intolerant, as well as pregnant women, should avoid feta because it is made with unpasteurized milk.