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All Cheese Considered: A Cheese by Any Other Name: Reconsidering FetaDespite the fact that the Greeks have won their claim within the European Union that only feta made in Greece can be called feta, this simple but versatile cheese continues to be made in several places, including France, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Malta and even here in the United States. It is generally assumed that feta was born in Greece, hence their Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) status, although it is equally plausible that this humble cheese cropped up in more places than one since it represents cheesemaking at its most fundamental. The origins of feta extend back into antiquity (the first reference to the cheese was found in writings from the Byzantine Empire), and the name offers little help. I can't read Greek, but most sources agree that the etymology stems from the Greek word for "slice," an apt, albeit terse description of the cheese. One source I read, however, insists the word comes from the Italian word fetta, but I sense that is more of an indication of early Rome's fascination with Greece (just like our fascination with Italy today) than with any claim to the word's root, and I even suspect they took the word from the Greek. Others believe feta originated somewhere in the Middle East and, of course, the Greeks hold firm to their claim to its genesis.

Regardless of where the cheese was first made, it has become a very important cheese in modern America. Most Greek feta is a combination of sheep and goat's milk, with the emphasis on the former. According to feta importer Ron Cardoos, there is really no such thing as 100 percent goat's milk feta from Greece. "Goats and sheep are always raised together, but the flavor would be too harsh with all goat milk -- too much acidity -- and no one in Greece wants to jeopardize their PDO standing. Ours is about 85 percent sheep's milk and 15 percent goat."

Feta is made in large blocks that are sliced (hence feta) into smaller pieces that would traditionally have been packed in barrels. The fermentation of the cheese is then halted by the addition of salt brine that is poured over the cheese. The cheese is then stored in the brine, which can be water or whey from the cheesemaking process, until it is to be used. Barrel-aged feta is still available, as is basket feta (the curds are ladled into a basket to set up), and the majority is packed in plastic tubs. Certainly, the barrel-aged version is more dramatic and makes a great presentation in the store. The fat content of feta ranges from about 30 to 60 percent, with most coming in around 45 percent. Besides domestically made feta, most of which is made from cow's milk, the three most common sources of our feta today are Greece, France and Bulgaria, and the cheeses are quite different. Many agree that French feta is very mild and creamy, while those from Bulgaria are much more assertive. Greek feta falls somewhere in between, milder than Bulgarian and more complex than the French. In any case, it is the quintessential salad cheese, is great for melting into scrambled eggs and omelets, or for simply eating at table. One of my favorite ways to eat feta was taught to me by an Iranian friend whose father begins each day with toasted pita filled with feta, walnuts and fresh mint. It's a delicious and healthful snack, appetizer, or even a meal.

Industry NewsFairmount Food Group Acquires Advantage InternationalFairmount Food Group has acquired Advantage International, a move that along with other recent acquisitions that include DCI Cheese Co., Swissrose, Carter Meister, Green Bay Cheese and G&G Foods, makes them one of the largest importers and marketers of specialty and deli-style cheese in the United States, if not the biggest. Advantage will continue to operate under its own identity and under the leadership of founder

Thomas Toto, who will in turn report to Tim Omer, CEO of DCI Cheese, and will be in charge of all DCI entities on the East Coast. Advantage efficiently distributes over 1,000 products nationwide, with customers including supermarkets, specialty grocery chains, independent specialty stores and foodservice distributors. Advantage also markets its own trademarked product lines of Maitre D', Bella Collina, and Global Cheese Market. For more information, visit

DairyNew Organic String Cheese From DCIDCI Cheese Company has introduced its new Organic Creamery Silly String Cheese, filling a need for school lunches, road trips, picnics and healthy after-school snacks. Silly String Cheese is Certified Organic, 100 percent natural, is produced without antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides, and is dye- and preservative-free. The package features the images of three "silly" cows -- Super Hero, Rock Star and Dancing Ballerina -- all playing in the pasture. For more information, e-mail Linda Hook at, or visit VENDOR LINK NO. 402

DeliNew Additions to Catelli Italian Bistro LineCatelli Brothers, a major purveyor of premier veal and lamb, now brings its 60 years of experience to chicken with three new additions to its Italian Bistro line of premium, center-of-the-plate meals featuring fresh cuts of meat and seasoned sauce in a vacuum-sealed package specifically designed to ensure quality and freshness. The three newest additions are: Chicken Marsala, tender chicken breasts with a savory marsala wine sauce; Chicken Parmigiana, tender chicken breasts with rich tomato sauce and finely shredded mozzarella cheese; and Chicken Piccata, tender chicken breasts with a light and flavorful white wine and lemon sauce. These meals can go from the package to the plate in seven minutes or less. For more information, call 856-869-9293, ext. 230, or visit VENDOR LINK NO. 403

FrozenDeli Buttons are Like a Casserole-to-GoPoppi Al's of Harrisburg, Pa., has launched its new Deli Buttons -- heat-and-serve hand-held mini dough bowls with eight different gourmet fillings. Akin to a sourdough bread bowl full of soup, these are 1-inch deep, open-faced, circular dough bowls stuffed from edge to edge (a 50% filling-to-dough ratio) with a solid, stick-to-your-ribs casserole filling. They are available in two sizes: Mini Deli Buttons (1.25 oz.) that can be heated in 10 seconds in a microwave if they are already thawed, 20 seconds if they go directly from the freezer to the microwave, or 10-15 minutes in an oven at 350? F (5-10 minutes if they are thawed); and Meal Size Buttons (4.7 oz.) that can be heated in 30-40 seconds if thawed, or 90-120 seconds if frozen. For more information, call 800-296-6263, or visit VENDOR LINK NO. 407
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Author:Mellgren, James
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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