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The Best Feta Cheese
After sorting through three different milks, three countries, and eight products, we found what makes the finest feta.
Published Sept. 1, 2017. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Mediterranean Comfort Food
What You Need To Know
The Greeks have been perfecting feta cheese since Homer’s time—the early process for making it is mentioned in The Odyssey. Thousands of years later, Greek immigrants brought feta to the United States in a wave of migration that started in the 1880s. It remained a specialty item for most of the last century, but in recent years it has become as common in American refrigerators as cheddar. In the test kitchen, we add it to salads, pastas, dips, pizza, and more.
This rise in feta’s popularity has meant more options to choose from—and, as we discovered, those options can vary wildly. First, there was the source to consider: We found top-selling cheeses that were made in Greece, France, and the United States. We also learned that in the European Union, only cheeses made in Greece according to specific Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) requirements, including being composed of at least 70 percent sheep’s milk with any remainder made up of goat’s milk, may be labeled “feta.” In the United States, there are no labeling requirements for feta, so any cheese—whether it’s made with sheep’s, goat’s, or cow’s milk or any combination thereof, and no matter where it’s manufactured—can be labeled “feta.”
Of the eight cheeses we tasted, priced from $0.41 to $1.19 per ounce, three were authentic Greek fetas bearing the PDO stamp, including our former winner from Mt. Vikos. Four other products were domestic cheeses made from cow’s milk. And the eighth was a sheep’s-milk cheese from France. Our question: How would the imitations compare with the real deal from Greece? To find out, we sampled the cheeses plain, crumbled into couscous salad, and—to see how they behaved when heated—baked in Greek spinach and feta pie, spanakopita.
A Bettah Feta
Differences among the cheeses were apparent from the first bite, particularly when it came to saltiness. Sampled plain, all four of the American cow’s-milk cheeses were markedly saltier than the Greek and French cheeses, eliciting comments such as “salt bomb!” or “[tastes] like I took a swig of ocean water.” Sure enough, these cheeses had some of the highest sodium contents in the lineup (ranging from 320 to 430 milligrams per 1-ounce serving), though that overt salinity mellowed once the cheeses were baked with spinach and phyllo.
But beyond saltiness is where the differences got interesting. Richness was one factor; not surprisingly, we liked decadent-tasting fetas with relatively high fat contents. Our first- and second-place cheeses boasted 7 and 6 grams of fat per ounce, respectively, compared with just 4 grams in some others. In addition, whereas many of the cheeses exhibited simple “milky” flavors...
Everything We Tested
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Hannah is an executive editor for ATK Reviews and cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube.