Back in the day, in Bulgaria, when we used the word cheese we meant one thing only: white, salty, crumbly– feta cheese. Feta was synonymous with cheese. In fact, we only had two types of cheese, the white feta and a yellow soft one called “kashkaval”. We didn’t have a big variety not because Bulgarian cuisine didn’t care much about cheese. On the contrary, cheese was part of pretty much every meal. But we were happy with the two types we had.
In the US, I truly enjoy the great variety of cheeses from all over the world I can find here. I discovered cheddar, I learned to appreciate Stilton, I fell in love with goat cheese and ordering a cheese plate before dinner is one of Aaron and mine favorite indulgencies. But every once in a while I find myself craving that tangy, savory and creamy texture that with just a little touch can transform the character of even the simplest meal.
The familiar flavor of feta is what I crave but there are many reasons that make me come back to it over and over again. Although still fatty, feta has a lot less fat and fewer calories than other cheeses (30% less fat and calories than cheddar). It is also rich in beneficial nutrients like calcium, protein, vitamin B12, phosphorous (helps absorb calcium) and riboflavin (helps metabolism). It does contain a lot of sodium but due to its rich flavor you don’t need to use much. Just a little bit is enough to satisfy the taste buds.
Unfortunately, despite of the growing popularity of feta in the US, I find good quality hard to come by. A lot of the brands sold in the grocery store are too dry, hard and salty. Most of them have Greek -sounding names but the true origin of the cheese is not disclosed. I try to stay away from those. The brand that consistently delivers good quality French feta is President. I am particularly pleased with their crumbled feta. For a chunk of feta though I prefer Vigo, a brand I discovered in my local Publix. Their cheese is sold in brine which keeps it softer and creamier. It is displayed in the regular cheese section, not the deli, and is reasonably priced. (Oh yes, and I have to disclose, it is imported from Bulgaria :)). I am also lucky to have found an international market in Nashville that carries Bulgarian feta in bigger containers and whenever I am in the neighborhood, I stock up on it.
In my modest attempt to help the popularity of feta in America expand beyond the world of salads, I will be sharing a lot of recipes with feta in this blog. Recipes for breakfasts, appetizers, salads and even main meals.
Let’s start with a really simple one that I borrowed from Martha Stewart and have made many times now. These feta cheese bites are extremely easy, very flavorful and perfect for a cocktail party or any other gathering.
Feta Bites with Toasted Fennel Seeds
- Chunk of feta -8 oz.
- Fennel seeds – 2 Tablespoons
- Zest of one lemon
Cut feta into small cubes (3/4 inch sides). Toast fennel seeds in a small skillet until strong fennel smell fills the air but before they start burning. Mix fennel with lemon zest. Roll feta cubes in fennel. Spear with a toothpick. Enjoy!
I love this combination of savory feta, fragrant fennel and fresh lemon zest but if you find fennel too strong, these bites work great with toasted caraway seeds as well.
I usually serve them with one or two other cheese bites. Some ideas: diced feta and pears dusted with coriander on a toothpick, mini goat cheese balls rolled in crushed pistachios or in pomegranate seeds.
Do you love or hate feta? What is your favorite feta recipe?