Feta is the most well-known cheese in Greece. It is a soft, white, brined cheese that is very nutritious and is an excellent source of calcium.
As part of Mediterranean cuisine, this cheese is used in all sorts of dishes — from appetizers to desserts — because it can enhance the taste of foods.
Here is everything you need to know about feta cheese.
What Is Feta Cheese?
Feta cheese is originally from Greece.
It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, meaning that only cheese made in some areas of Greece can be called “feta” (1).
In these regions, feta is made with milk from sheep and goats raised on local grass. This particular environment is what gives the cheese its unique characteristics.
Feta’s flavor is tangy and sharp when it’s made with sheep’s milk, but milder when combined with goat’s milk.
It’s considered a fresh cheese because it is not aged or cured. Feta is produced in blocks and is firm to the touch.
However, it can crumble when cut and has a creamy mouth feel.
Bottom Line: Feta cheese is a Greek cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk. It has a tangy, sharp flavor and a creamy texture in the mouth.
How Is It Made?
Genuine Greek feta is made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk.
However, goat’s milk cannot be more than 30% of the mixture (1).
The milk used to make the cheese is usually pasteurized, but it can also be raw.
After the milk is pasteurized, lactic acid starter cultures are added to separate the whey from the curds, which are made of the protein casein. Then, rennet is added to set the casein.
Once this process is complete, the curd is shaped by draining the whey and placing the curd in molds for 24 hours.
Once the curd is firm, it is cut into cubes, salted and placed in wooden barrels or metal containers for up to three days. Next, the blocks of cheese are placed in a salted solution and refrigerated for two months.
Finally, when the cheese is ready to be distributed to consumers, it is packaged in this solution (called brine) to preserve freshness.
Bottom Line: Feta cheese is a fresh cheese that is shaped into cubes. It is stored in salted brine and matured for only two months.
Feta Cheese Is Packed With Nutrients
Feta cheese seems to be a healthy choice. One ounce (28 grams) provides (2):
- Calories: 74
- Fat: 6 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Carbs: 1.1 grams
- Riboflavin: 14% of the RDI
- Calcium: 14% of the RDI
- Sodium: 13% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 9% of the RDI
- Vitamin B12: 8% of the RDI
- Selenium: 6% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 6% of the RDI
- Zinc: 5% of the RDI
What’s more, feta is lower in fat and calories than aged cheeses like cheddar or Parmesan.
Bottom Line: Feta cheese is a low-calorie, low-fat cheese. It is also a good source of B vitamins, calcium and phosphorus.
It Can Support Bone Health
Furthermore, milk from sheep and goats contains more calcium and phosphorus than cow’s milk. Therefore, incorporating cheeses like feta into your diet could help you achieve the recommended daily intake of calcium (15, 16, 17).
Bottom Line: Calcium and phosphorus are present in feta cheese in amounts that can help support bone health.
Feta Cheese Is Good for Your Gut
Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that can benefit your health.
Finally, test-tube studies have shown that these resilient bacteria and other yeast strains found in this cheese can grow at a low pH, surviving extreme conditions in your gut, such as bile acid (18, 22, 24).
Bottom Line: Feta cheese contains friendly bacteria that have been shown to promote immune and intestinal health, in addition to their anti-inflammatory effects.
It Contains Beneficial Fatty Acids
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid found in animal products.
Cheeses made with sheep’s milk have a higher CLA concentration than cheeses made with milk from cows or goats. In fact, feta cheese contains up to 1.9% CLA, which accounts for 0.8% of its fat content (27, 28).
Even though this content of CLA decreases after the ripening period and during storage, a study has shown that the use of bacterial cultures in the making of the cheese could help increase the concentration of CLA (1, 29).
Therefore, eating feta cheese could contribute to your intake of CLA and provide you with all of the benefits it offers.
Interestingly enough, Greece has the lowest incidence of breast cancer and the highest consumption of cheese in the European Union (28).
Bottom Line: Feta cheese contains good amounts of CLA, which may improve body composition and help prevent diabetes and cancer.
Potential Problems With Feta
Feta cheese is a good dairy source of nutrients. However, due to how its made and the types of milk used, it could have some drawbacks.
It Contains High Amounts of Sodium
During the cheese-making process, salt is added to the curd. Additionally, during storage, the cheese block needs to be submerged in a brine of up to 7% salt.
If you’re sensitive to salt, one simple way to reduce the salt content of this cheese is to rinse the cheese with water before eating it.
It Has a High Lactose Content
Fresh cheeses and cheeses made with high levels of milk fat tend to be higher in lactose than aged cheeses.
Since feta cheese is a fresh cheese made from whole milk, it has a higher lactose content than cheeses like gouda, Parmesan or ricotta.
People who are allergic or intolerant to lactose should avoid eating fresh cheeses, including feta.
Pregnant Women Should Not Consume Unpasteurized Feta
Listeria monocytogenes is a type of bacteria found in water and soil that can contaminate crops and animals (30).
Cheeses made with unpasteurized milk have a higher risk of carrying the bacteria than cheeses made with pasteurized milk. Similarly, fresh cheeses have a higher risk of carrying it than aged cheeses, due to higher moisture content (30).
Therefore, feta cheese made with unpasteurized milk is not recommended for pregnant women.
Bottom Line: Feta cheese has a higher sodium and lactose content than other cheeses. Also, when made with unpasteurized milk, it has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria bacteria.
How to Eat Feta Cheese
Feta can be a great addition to your meals because of its flavor and texture. In fact, Greeks traditionally keep it on the table for people to freely add during meals.
Here are a few fun ways to add this type of cheese to your food:
- On bread: Top with feta, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- On salads: Sprinkle crumbled feta on your salads.
- Grilled: Grill feta, drizzle it with olive oil and season with pepper.
- With fruits: Create dishes such as a salad of watermelon, feta and mint.
- On tacos: Sprinkle crumbled feta on tacos.
- On pizza: Add crumbled feta and ingredients like tomatoes, peppers and olives.
- In omelets: Combine eggs with spinach, tomatoes and feta.
- On pasta: Use it along with artichokes, tomatoes, olives, capers and parsley.
- On potatoes: Try it on baked or mashed potatoes.
Bottom Line: Because of its characteristic flavor and aroma, feta cheese can be an excellent addition to meals.
Take Home Message
Feta is a fresh, white cheese with a soft and creamy texture.
Compared to other cheeses, it’s low in calories and fat. It also contains a high amount of B vitamins, phosphorus and calcium, which can benefit bone health.
Additionally, feta contains beneficial bacteria and fatty acids.
However, this type of cheese is high in sodium and lactose. Pregnant women should also be sure to avoid unpasteurized feta.
Yet for most people, feta is perfectly safe to eat. What’s more, it can be used in a variety of recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts.
At the end of the day, feta is a delicious and healthy addition to most people’s diets.