It must be one of the world’s oldest cheeses, it’s certainly one of the most famous, and it’s practically never missing from a Greek table, no matter the time of day.
A person might grab a chunk of this chalk-white substance for breakfast, crunch through layers of feta-stuffed phyllo for elevenses, put a slab of it on her village salad for lunch, have it for supper along with a vegetable casserole and then pair it with watermelon for a scrumptious dessert. T
he only other food that a Greek may be even more addicted to is bread.If you were to guess which nation boasted the most cheese eaters on the planet, surely you would say France, home to so many delectable and sophisticated fromages.
Not so fast! Ilias Mamalakis, in his lively and informative dissertation on Greek Cheese, published in 1999, claimed that Greeks gobbled up 23 kilos per person, whereas the French ate a whole kilo less. More recent (Greek-sourced) data raises that figure to 25 kilos, almost a pound a week.We don’t know what’s behind this tyro-chauvinism (tyri is the Greek word for cheese), but whatever the true facts may be, one is incontrovertible: despite being able to choose between a very large selection of at least 76 domestic soft, semi-soft, hard, semi-hard, fresh and brine-aged cheeses, the Greeks overwhelmingly prefer feta. It accounts for 40 percent of cheese sales.
And it also tops export charts – foreigners, especially Germans, Brits and even Italians seem to love it too.
One reason for its popularity may be its adaptability, another that its taste – usually salty and slightly sour – is neither bland nor too pungent, and that it complements other foods.