Feta cheese has been enjoyed in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries for centuries, and it has found its way into the hearts and kitchens of food enthusiasts worldwide. But as the popularity of this tangy and salty cheese grows, so do the questions about its classification.
Is feta cheese dairy? Feta cheese is indeed classified as a dairy product since it is made from sheep’s milk (sheep’s and goat’s milk) using specific cultures of lactic acid bacteria.
However, due to its unique taste and texture and its relatively low lactose content, some people may still be able to enjoy feta cheese even if they follow a lactose-free or dairy-free diet.
In this blog post, let’s find out more about feta cheese and whether it is suitable for your diet.
What Is Feta Cheese?
Feta cheese has been a part of the Mediterranean diet for centuries. It originated in Greece over 8000 years ago. The ancient Greeks were the first to produce it by preserving sheep’s milk in brine.
Feta cheese became so popular in the 19th century that it was served as a daily staple in Greek households. The name “Feta” originates from the Greek word “fetta,” which translates to “slice.”
How is Feta Cheese Made?
Feta cheese is made from goat or sheep’s milk or a combination of both. The milk is first curdled with rennet or vinegar, and then the curd is cut into small pieces.
The curds are then drained, salted, and placed in brine for several days. The longer the cheese is left in the brine, the saltier and tangier it becomes. The cheese is then cut into blocks, wrapped, and sold.
1. Starting With the Milk
The production of feta cheese starts with milk, typically sheep or goat milk, which is collected from local farms. The milk is then heated in a large vat to about 30-32°C, a temperature that is favorable for the growth of lactic acid bacteria.
Once the milk reaches this temperature, a starter culture is added to it. This culture is a blend of bacteria that helps to acidify the milk. The heated milk is then left to rest and ferment for about an hour.
2. Curdling and Draining the Milk
The next step is to add rennet, which is essential in the coagulation of the milk. Rennet is a natural enzyme that is extracted from the stomach of young ruminants.
Once added to the milk, it causes the milk proteins (casein) to coagulate, forming curds. The curds are then cut into small pieces and left to rest for a while longer. This allows the curds to settle and separate from the whey. The whey is then drained off, leaving the curds behind.
3. Salting and Pressing the Curds
The curds are then cut into smaller pieces again, washed, and drained of the remaining whey. Salt is then added to the curds to give them their characteristic salty flavor, and any desired herbs or spices are mixed in.
The cheese is then placed in molds and left to settle and expel any remaining liquid. Once the cheese has settled, it is removed from the mold and cut into blocks or pieces.
4. Brining the Cheese
The blocks or pieces of cheese are then placed in a brine solution, which is traditionally made with water, salt, and vinegar in Greece. The brine solution helps to preserve the cheese and gives it a tangy flavor and a crumbly texture.
The cheese is usually left in the brine for several days, and the longer the cheese is aged in the brine, the tastier it becomes.
5. Aging and Packaging the Cheese
The final step in the production of feta cheese is the aging process. The cheese is aged for a minimum of two months, during which it develops its characteristic tangy and sharp flavor.
It can be aged for up to six months or even longer, depending on the desired flavor and texture. Once the cheese is aged, it is packaged and distributed to local markets and stores, ready for consumption.
Is Feta Cheese Dairy?
Firstly, it is important to understand what “dairy” means when it comes to food. Dairy products are generally defined as foods made from the milk of mammals such as cows, goats, and sheep.
Feta cheese is made from sheep’s milk, which is heat-treated and combined with specific cultures of lactic acid bacteria. So technically speaking, feta cheese is classified as a dairy product.
However, some people may be confused because feta cheese has a unique taste and texture that sets it apart from other dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt.
The crumbly and slightly acidic texture of feta cheese is due to its production method, where it is aged in brine for several weeks. This process gives feta its distinctive tangy flavor and moist but firm texture.
It is also worth noting that not all feta cheese is made from sheep’s milk. In some instances, feta can be made from a combination of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk.
In such cases, goat’s milk is used because it has similar characteristics and flavors to sheep’s milk and also because it is easier to obtain in certain regions.
However, regardless of whether it is made from sheep milk, goat milk, or a mixture of both, feta cheese is still classified as a dairy product due to its production method and ingredients.
That being said, some people who follow a lactose-free or dairy-free diet may still be able to enjoy feta cheese. This is because feta cheese is lower in lactose than other dairy products.
In fact, some studies have found that feta cheese contains only 1 gram of lactose per 100 grams of cheese, which makes it a good option for those with lactose intolerances or sensitivities.
However, it is important to note that feta cheese is not completely lactose-free, so those with severe lactose intolerances may still experience discomfort after consuming it.
Nevertheless, feta cheese is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of dishes, from salads and wraps to pasta and pizza. Its tangy and slightly salty taste pairs well with many flavors and ingredients, and it is also a good source of protein and calcium.
So if you are a fan of feta cheese and were ever wondering if it is considered a dairy product, the answer is yes, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying all the tasty possibilities it has to offer.
Can You Get Dairy-Free Feta?
Can you really get dairy-free feta? The short answer is yes. Let’s the different options available and share some tips and tricks to help you enjoy all the deliciousness of feta without dairy.
1. Coconut Feta
One of the most popular options for those seeking a dairy-free alternative to feta is coconut-based feta. This type of cheese is typically made by mixing shredded coconut with water, lemon juice, and other flavorful ingredients like garlic and herbs.
While coconut feta may not have the exact same texture as traditional feta, it is still tangy and delicious and pairs perfectly with salads and other Mediterranean dishes. It’s also a great source of healthy fats and minerals like manganese and copper.
2. Tofu Feta
Another great dairy-free feta alternative is tofu-based feta. This type of cheese is typically made by marinating crumbled tofu in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, herbs, and spices.
While tofu feta may not have the exact same flavor as traditional feta, it is still savory, tangy, and just as versatile in the kitchen. It’s also a great source of protein and calcium, making it an ideal option for those who cannot have dairy.
3. Nut-Based Feta
If you’re looking for dairy-free feta that’s a bit heartier and more filling, nut-based feta may be just what you need. This type of cheese is typically made by blending soaked and drained nuts, like almonds or cashews, with water, lemon juice, and other flavorings.
The result is a creamy, tangy cheese that’s perfect for spreading on crackers or adding to salads and other dishes. Like coconut feta and tofu feta, nut-based feta is also a great source of healthy fats and minerals.
4. Store-Bought Dairy-Free Feta
Finally, if you don’t want to make your own dairy-free feta, you can always purchase it at the store. Many supermarkets now carry dairy-free feta made from a variety of ingredients like soy, almonds, and cashews.
While store-bought dairy-free feta may be a bit more expensive than making your own, it’s a convenient option for those who want to enjoy the flavor and texture of feta without the dairy.
Cooking With Feta Cheese
1. Feta Cheese in Salads
Feta cheese is a popular ingredient in salads and for a good reason! Its tart and salty flavor complements the freshness of greens, tomatoes, and other vegetables.
You can try adding feta cheese to a Greek salad, roasted beet salad, or watermelon and feta salad. For a tangy dressing, you can make a vinaigrette with lemon juice, olive oil, and crushed garlic.
2. Feta Cheese in Pastas
Feta cheese can also be used in pasta recipes, giving it a tangy and salty flavor. You can add feta cheese to your favorite pasta dishes, like spaghetti, mac and cheese, and lasagna.
You can also mix feta cheese with cooked spinach and garlic and stuff it into ravioli or tortellini for a delicious meal. For a quick and easy recipe, cook pasta in salted water and then mix in crumbled feta cheese, chopped cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil.
3. Feta Cheese in Baked Goods
Yes, you read that right! Feta cheese can be added to baked goods as well. Its tangy flavor and crumbly texture make it a great addition to muffins, scones, and bread.
You can also mix feta cheese with eggs and bake it into a quiche, frittata, or strata. For a quick breakfast, toast a bagel, spread cream cheese, and crumble feta cheese on top.
4. Feta Cheese in Meat Dishes
Feta cheese pairs well with chicken and beef, and can be used to add flavor to meat dishes. You can stuff feta cheese into chicken breasts, make a feta cheese and spinach stuffed beef roll, or sprinkle feta cheese on top of lamb chops.
You can also make a Greek-style burger by mixing feta cheese with ground beef, chopped onions, garlic, and oregano.
5. Feta Cheese in Desserts
Believe it or not, feta cheese can be used in sweet dishes too! Its tangy and salty flavor can balance the sweetness of desserts like fruit salad, chocolate cake, and cheesecake.
You can mix feta cheese with honey and serve it with fresh fruit, make feta cheese and grape tart, or add feta cheese to your favorite cheesecake recipe.
How to Store Feta Cheese So It Stays Fresh
Feta cheese is a versatile and delicious ingredient that can add a unique and tangy flavor to any dish. Whether you use it in salads, sandwiches, or as a topping for roasted vegetables, feta is a fantastic addition to any menu.
But if you’re like most people, you might be wondering how to store feta cheese so it stays fresh and flavorful for as long as possible. Let’s find out more about storing feta cheese, from the best storage methods to top tips for preserving its quality.
1. Keep It in Brine
Feta cheese is traditionally stored in brine, which helps to keep it moist and flavorful. If you buy feta cheese that’s already in brine, simply keep it in the liquid in a covered container in the refrigerator.
If your feta isn’t already in brine, you can make your own by dissolving a tablespoon of salt in a cup of water and pouring it over the cheese. Make sure the cheese is fully submerged in the brine, and store it in the fridge in a sealed container.
2. Wrap It Tightly
If you don’t want to keep your feta in brine, you can still keep it fresh by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap. Make sure to wrap the cheese as tightly as possible, getting rid of any air bubbles.
Then, place the cheese in an airtight container or a resealable bag before storing it in the refrigerator. This method can keep your feta fresh for up to a week.
3. Store It Upside Down
When you store feta upright, the brine or moisture that’s in contact with the cheese can cause it to deteriorate faster. To avoid this, store your feta upside down so that the moisture is distributed evenly throughout the cheese.
You can store it in brine or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap before storing it upside down in a sealed container in the fridge.
4. Don’t Freeze It
While many types of cheese can be frozen without losing much of their quality, feta is not one of them. Freezing feta can cause it to become crumbly and dry, and it might lose its flavor completely. To avoid this, it’s best to use up your feta quickly or store it in the fridge using one of the methods above.
5. Use It Up Quickly
While feta can last for a few weeks in the fridge when stored properly, it’s best to use it up quickly after opening it.
This is especially true if you keep your feta in brine, as the longer it stays in liquid, the more its quality will deteriorate. To make sure you get the most out of your feta, try to use it up within a week or two of opening it.