Feta, as in “Feta Cheese”

Feta is perhaps Greece’s most glorious contribution to fine cuisine.  It’s certainly not the only country to make it, but it was clearly the first to do so.  The name “feta,” or φέταis, is the same as the Greek word that means “slice.”  There’s an Italian word fetta, which also means “slice,” but I’m not sure which of the two has historical priority.  In any case, feta is a sheep’s milk cheese (sometimes a little goat’s milk is thrown in), which is fully brined, producing an immediately recognizable sharp and piquant character to its taste.  It is often observed that a similar sounding cheese can be found in Homer’s Odyssey, and, though no one can prove that Homer’s cheese is the true linear ancestor of Byzantine and modern feta, the roots seem clear enough.  In any case, feta is famously used to adorn the well-known “Greek Salad”, yes, but the Greeks love the stuff so much (as do I) that they frequently serve it all by itself as an hors d’oeuvre, just anointed with a splash or two of excellent olive oil.  I like to mash it and the oil together with that same olive oil, sprinkle a little fresh or dried oregano on top, and serve it with some crusty bread.  The Greeks like to eat it with a fresh, right-out-of-the barrel glass of Retsina … but Retsina’s another topic altogether.BulgarianFeta2

So … who really does make the best feta cheese?  Being the professional Hellenophile that I am, I hate to admit it, but Greek feta runs but a close second to the world’s finest: Bulgarian.  You can find it easily at a good Near Eastern deli, and also at the Super King market chain.  The best brand is called “Zer Güt,” which is itself a subsidiary of “Indo-European Foods.”  Zer Güt comes in variously sized small plastic boxes colored green and white.  The cheese is packed in its own brine, and, if you keep it in the box and in the brine and in the refrigerator, tightly closed, it will stay bright and fresh for several weeks.

Danish, French, and American feta cheeses are nothing but truly wimpy imitators; pay them no mind.  Oh, and the first syllable of the word “feta” rhymes with the English verb “let.”  Take my word for it: you’ll love the Bulgarian stuff, and, to add more good news, it’s relatively inexpensive.


Childhood Memories

(from my wife Sandy Glass):

Foods can frequently bring back recollections of childhood – happy, perhaps  PB&Js, strawberry ice cream, cotton candy – or sad like clean-your-plate of Brussels sprouts, turnips, boiled cabbage.  Occasionally tastes and aromas can even be as all-encompassing as Proust’s madeleines.  Never did I imagine, however, that I would have such a vivid recollection at a Super King Market until I discovered their huge bin of fresh green peas in their pods.


Suddenly I was struck with the memory of a skinny, curly haired little girl being presented with a sack of fresh green peas to take out to the porch swing to shell. Most were required for dinner’s vegetable, but as many of the yummy morsels as one could hold could be eaten right out of the pods.  No candy was a sweet as these little round green marbles.

These treasures are rare in markets today since most go to Bird’s Eye freezeries.  Gourmet stores may occasionally offer a few at inflated prices.  Thus, I had no shame in rummaging through the bin with several multicultural housewives to find my pound of the fattest, freshest pods.  Of course,  the peas can be used in soups or delicious vegetables dishes featuring crimini mushrooms and shallots, or they can enhance chicken veloute or lamb curry, but why not just sit on the porch and delight in one of nature’s spring bounties and spilt each pod to eat them raw?