Saturday, March 05, 2005

Fridge-Friendly Feta

As cheeses go, feta seems like a camel – or that innocuous battery-powered bunny from the TV commercials – to me. It just keeps going, and going, and going. Stored in a durable, lidded, plastic container in the refrigerator, feta waits for me patiently day after day after day. No mold, no muss, no fuss. I’m sure that this cannot go on indefinitely, of course. At some point, one day, it simply must spoil. It is fantastic, though, that this phenomenon seems to take weeks, rather than days, to occur. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever had to throw away any spoiled feta.

Feta (occasionally spelled fetta) is a traditional Greek-style cheese that is typically made from goats' milk but may also be made from the milk of sheep or cows. It is crumbly in texture and is typically sold in either a block form, packed in a brine solution, or already crumbled. It may be soft to firm in consistency. Recently, I found some that was labeled French feta and thought that its flavor was milder and slightly less salty than Greek-style feta.

In any case, feta’s rich earthiness seems perfectly suited for combination with the earthy flavor of herbs. Dried herbs, being more intense, seem to best stand up to the intense flavor of the cheese. Here’s how I like to combine them:

Remove some block-style feta from its brine solution, dry it off with paper towels and cut it into half-inch cubes. Place the cubes into a durable, lidded plastic container with a flat bottom. Pour some good extra virgin olive oil over the cheese cubes, using enough so that there is some oil puddled in the bottom of the container. Sprinkle a combination of dried (not fresh) herbs over the oil-coated feta. (Use the herbs that you like best and rub them between your fingers or give them the mortar-and-pestle treatment to release the flavors before putting them on top of the feta.) For a nice Italian flavor, I like to use oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley and maybe a little black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes for extra zing. Use enough herbs to give the cheese a light coating; you can always add more herbs later if you want additional flavor. Put the cover on the plastic container and give the mixture a gentle shake to distribute the oil and herbs. If the feta has already completely absorbed the olive oil at this stage, you may wish to add a bit more, so that there is once again a layer of oil at the bottom of the container.

As a topping for salads, as an addition to pasta dishes or as a quick-bite cracker spread, this herbed feta adds a wonderfully-homemade touch. How can homemade flavor be this easy. And there it sits in the fridge, patiently waiting for me to enjoy it, on a moment’s notice. When it comes to fridge-friendly cheese, what could be “betta” than feta?


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the French feta being more mild. I wonder if it could be sheep's milk that it is difference? Great blog, btw!

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! I am sick to death of throwing away spoiled cheese. I'll give feta a try.