Is Crumbled Feta Worth Buying?
Published Feb. 1, 2018. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Mediterranean Comfort Food
Crumbling a block of feta cheese for a salad, pasta, or pizza can be messy, making packaged crumbled feta a tempting substitute. But how does it measure up? To find out, we tasted four of the most widely available crumbled fetas, priced from $0.50 to $1.13 per ounce, and compared them with our winning block feta, made by Real Greek Feta ($0.87 per ounce). A panel of tasters assessed each product plain, folded into couscous salad, and baked in spanakopita.
Overall, tasters preferred our winning block feta. Like other Greek fetas, it’s made with funkier sheep’s milk, and we liked that extra complexity. The only crumbled fetas available are produced domestically and made with milder cow’s milk. Despite the lack of fancy imports when it comes to crumbled feta, we found a few decent options. The best had lots of fat—6 grams per ounce—and a relatively moderate sodium level of 330 milligrams per ounce. Tasters called our favorite “savory” and “briny”—“mild-mannered” overall but “pretty good.”
But lots of fat and moderate sodium didn’t guarantee success; what separated a decent crumbled feta from a bad one mostly came down to the degree to which they were crumbled. Bigger crumbles were better, making the feta more prominent in dishes; smaller crumbles seemed to disappear. Of the four products we tried, two had large, consistent crumbles; the third had some larger crumbles with some smaller ones mixed in; and the fourth had a few larger crumbles surrounded by lots of very small, sand-like crumbles.
All four fetas we tasted used an anticaking agent to keep their crumbles from clumping. Our second-place feta was tossed in potato starch; its crumbles were slightly wet when eaten plain but just fine once we combined them with other ingredients. The other three included cellulose, an ingredient that’s commonly used to keep shredded cheese separate, among other applications.
In our top-rated crumbled feta, which has larger crumbles, the cellulose was barely detectable; in our two lowest-ranking products, with mostly small crumbles, it was much more noticeable—egregiously so in the last‑place product, which had the smallest crumbles of all. Tasters singled out this product as exceptionally dry, even when tossed in a dressing. Manufacturers wouldn’t share their anticaking‑agent‑to-cheese ratios; however, cheese and food technologist Dean Sommer of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Dairy Research confirmed that the drier products likely use too much cellulose or, because they have smaller crumbles, there wasn’t enough cheese in each crumble to balance out the cellulose’s drying...
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Hannah is an executive editor for ATK Reviews and cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube.