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RD Choice: Athenos® Feta Cheese

Written by Andrew Akhaphong
*written by Andrew Akhaphong, Mackenthun’s Fine Foods Registered & Licensed Dietitian
Take a piece of the Mediterranean for your meals with Athenos® Feta Cheese. It is your Dietitian’s Choice this week for $3.99 on select varieties from November 4th to November 11th.

What is Feta Cheese?

Feta cheese is of Greece origin and the product (including the name) is under the Protection Designation of Origin Act. This means that only cheese made in (specific areas) of Greece can be called “feta”.  The Protection Designation of Origin Act is established by the European Union and the United Kingdom whose purpose is to preserve the origin of food and food-related products. This also to preserve the history and culture to which the food and food-related product comes from.

Authentic feta cheese is made from sheep and goat raised on grass which gives the cheese its unique flavors and textures. Feta cheese can either be 100% sheep milk or a blend of sheep milk with up to 30% goat milk. Feta cheese cannot include cow milk. According to the European Union, feta cheese must contain at least 6% fat. Feta cheese must have a ripening stage at 18°C with no less than 85% humidity up to 15 days in a controlled environment, then transferred to refrigeration between 2-4°C for at least two months to finish ripening.

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Image Source: https://agriculture.ec.europa.eu/

History of Feta Cheese

The ancient Greek translation for feta means “slice”, but today it means “brine cheese”. According to Greek mythology the god Aristaios taught the Greeks the art of cheese making. Historical records have shown that cheese in general has been created as old as time when Aristoteles and Pythagoras were alive. It is believed the cheese described in Homer’s Odyssey in the 8th B.C. is what we know feta cheese today. An except from Homer’s Odyssey is shared below by the Real Greek Feta.
“We entered the cave, but he wasn’t there, only his plump sheep grazed in the meadow. The woven baskets were full of cheese, the folds were full of sheep and goats and all his pots, tubs and churns where he drew the milk, were full of whey. When half of the snow-white milk curdled he collected it put it in the woven baskets and kept the other half in a tub to drink. Why my good ram are you the last to leave the fold? You have never been left behind by the flock before. You were always first walking ahead to graze the tender sheets of grass.”

Culinary Uses

Feta cheese is not a melting cheese despite its fat content. The reason being is it has a high acid content from the brining solution. This results in the cheese to have a strong interior texture dense with protein molecules. When it does heat, feta cheese does not melt but does soften slightly and you can get a nice sear on it similar to that of steak.

Feta cheese is often used as a topping for salads, appetizers like bruschetta, or on pizza and pasta to add salty notes stronger than what parmesan could provide; however, feta cheese does not have much umami like parmesan. There are many recipes that call for using feta as a protein option in place of tofu or paneer (Indian cottage cheese) due to its ability to retain its shape and being able to take on the flavors of the dish easily.

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Image Caption: Saag Curry with Feta ——- Image Source: https://healthynibblesandbits.com/

Nutritional Benefits

A serving of feta cheese is one ounces, or about 28 grams (1/4 cup approximately).

One serving of feta cheese provides approximately 74 calories and 6 grams of fat which is significantly lower compared to other cheeses like cheddar and parmesan, but almost equal to that of a serving of fresh mozzarella.

Unlike most cheeses, feta cheese is a good source of riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2. Riboflavin is important for the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat.

Feta cheese is rich in the probiotic, Lactobacillus planatarum which supports the immune system and gut health by controlling E. coli population and reducing risk of illness from Salmonella.

Most of the fat content found in feta is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This is an essential fatty acid that helps decrease body fat mass and increase lean body mass. Studies show that Greece has the lowest incidence of breast cancer and highest consumption of cheese in the European Union. This is surprising as many may assume it would either be France or Italy to be the largest consumers of cheese in the European Union!

Baked Feta Pasta

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Ingredients

  • 2 pt. cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 shallot, quartered
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (8-oz.) block feta
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 10 oz. pasta
  • Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
  • Fresh basil, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a large ovenproof skillet or medium baking dish, combine tomatoes, shallot, garlic, and all but 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and red pepper flakes and toss to combine.
  2. Place feta into center of tomato mixture and drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Scatter thyme sprigs over tomatoes. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until tomatoes are bursting and feta is golden on top.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining.
  4. To skillet with tomatoes and feta, add cooked pasta, reserved pasta water, and lemon zest (if using) and stir until combined. Garnish with basil.

 

By Lauren Miyashiro of Delish, March 3, 2021
https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a35421563/baked-feta-pasta-tiktok/
Sources:
​https://agriculture.ec.europa.eu/farming/geographical-indications-and-quality-schemes/geographical-indications-and-quality-schemes-explained_en
​https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/feta-cheese-good-or-bad
http://www.realgreekfeta.gr/history-of-feta/
​https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814602001590
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