Feta cheese is a tangy, brined cheese that can be purchased both as a softer, creamier cheese or as a slightly hard, firmer cheese. It’s tangy taste is welcome in both cold dishes (such as salads, hors d’oeuvres , etc.) and cooked in hot dishes (omelets, stuffed pastas, pastries, etc.). This week’s Kitchen Questions & Answers is all about feta cheese: Do you know the difference between goat cheese and feta cheese? Or how best to store it? Are you wondering what the liquid is that’s included in the packaging when you buy it? These questions and more are answered below.
Feta Cheese Can Be Soft & Creamy In Texture, Or Rough & Pitted...Regardless Of The Texture, It's Always Delicious!
- What is feta cheese? This cheese originated in Greece centuries ago and is traditionally made from sheep’s milk (there may be a percentage of goat’s milk as well). It’s possible to purchase feta cheese made from cow’s milk but this isn’t considered a traditionally correct feta. Feta cheese is typically a soft curd cheese that is cured in a brine solution and has been aged for at least 2 months. It can be purchased in blocks, cubes and in crumbled form. Greeks are passionate and proud of their feta and consider it the only “true” feta, even though nowadays it’s also made in other parts of Europe and North America.
- The feta cheese I bought has a very pitted and rough texture, is it still good to eat? Yes! Depending on how the cheese is made, it can have either a smooth and creamy texture or a rough, pitted texture. Although a smooth feta is considered the best quality…both are very delicious. If you’d like to make your rough feta a little creamier, try letting it soak in milk for a day or two.
- What’s the difference between feta cheese and goat cheese? While feta is traditionally made from sheep’s milk, it’s acceptable for it to include up to 30% goat’s milk, goat cheese (chevre) is made from…drumroll please…100% goat’s milk. Feta is a salty, tangy tasting cheese, while goat cheese can be a little sweeter (many types will have a strong flavor if it has been aged long).
- What is the liquid in the container of feta cheese (or the liquid found in the packaging)? This is the brine solution that makes feta cheese so delicious, it’s a salted water (or whey) that gives the cheese its moisture and salty taste. Although it can be unsettling to see cheese swimming in liquid, this is definitely what you want. Did you know: Because the curing process involves brine, feta cheese is sometimes called “pickled cheese”.
- How should the cheese be stored? Keep it covered with the brine in an airtight container, refrigerated. The brine solution is nice and acidic so it helps prevent spoilage. If you run low on the brine, you can top it up with salted water (or plain water and it will absorb salt from the cheese–this will result in a less salty feta). If you store feta without the brine, you’ll find the cheese dries out quickly and won’t last as long.
- What is its shelf life? If the packaging has not been opened, feta cheese can be stored for months (it should have a brine solution inside the packaging). Once opened, keep it covered in the brine and it should be good for at least a month. If you’re not sure how old the cheese is, look for signs of mold before using–if there is mold cut it away deeply and use the cheese as soon as possible. It can also taste “off” and sour (not in a good way) once it goes bad. Look for an expiration date on the packaging to be safe.
- Can you freeze feta cheese? Like other cheeses  it can be frozen but for best results, use the feta fresh. You can freeze it but there will be a loss of texture and quality once thawed. Feta cheese that has been frozen should be used in cooked dishes rather than uncooked (like in salads) since the quality degradation is less noticeable.
- Is there a good substitute for feta cheese? Keeping in mind a substitute will alter the taste of the final dish, try a well drained cottage cheese seasoned generously with salt, Parmesan cheese, Muenster cheese, a mild flavored goat cheese or Cotija cheese. It really depends on the dish when deciding what substitute will work best.
- I find feta cheese a little too salty, any way to fix that? You can reduce the saltiness by removing the amount of cheese you need from the brine, rinse it with water then soak the cheese in cold water for 20 minutes, changing the water after 10 minutes.
- Is feta cheese pasteurized or safe for pregnant women to eat? Some feta is made with pasteurized milk, some isn’t. You’ll have to read the label on the packaging to be sure. Pregnant women are advised not to consume any cheese made with unpasteurized milk.
- How do you crumble feta cheese? Feta cheese crumbles very easily, simply cut off the amount of cheese you need then break it into pieces gently between your fingers–it will crumble as pressure is applied. You can also use a fork to break the cheese into small pieces.
- Sometimes I find that feta cheese gets a little too soft, is there a way to firm it up again? (and any way to make it a bit softer?) To firm up the cheese, soak it in very cold, salted water for about a minute or until it is as hard as you want it. To soften the cheese, let it sit in warm (not hot) water for about a minute.