Is feta cheese made from cow’s milk or sheep and goat’s milk? The answer may not be as obvious as you think. I recently had a chat with my mother about feta, that’s Greek Feta cheese. She like most everyone takes for granted that the feta cheeses sold in stores are all made from sheep or goat’s milk or a combination of the two and are from Greece. I informed her, that it’s not necessarily so. In fact this was not the first time I had this same discussion. A close friend, ever so gingerly – as not to embarrass me – advised me that feta is made from goat or sheep after I questioned (while out) whether the feta in a spanakopita was made from cow or goat/sheep’s milk . She gave me a strange – you poor uniformed unexposed woman – look. I proceeded to tell her that some feta cheeses are actually made from cow’s milk. She left it alone and I’m pretty sure she felt she would leave me to my ignorance as a couple times after that when dining out and questioning any feta choices on the menu, she would give me a look. The fact is we are both correct – there was a time when feta was indeed exclusive to sheep and goat’s milk, but it has since changed, I’m not certain of when cow’s milk started masquerading as Greek Feta, but it has.
Why is this a thing for me? It’s not really, well yeah, it is kinda. I don’t drink/eat cow dairy due to an allergy and so it’s important for me to know exactly what kind of cheese I’m eating. I can and do enjoy goat cheese – crumbled, hard and soft. Furthermore, my 60-second chat with my mother made me realize that most people assume and take for granted that feta is the traditional goat/sheep cheese from Greece.
I’m here to tell ya, “it aint always so”. And if you don’t think it’s such a big deal, well the Greek cheese makers sure did, so much that courts have had to rule on feta to lower the tensions between the big dairy nations – Greece, France, Denmark and Germany. Trade agreements amongst countries have been drafted and implemented to regulate the world trade of genuine Greek Feta, it’s origins and who has the right to use the label.
To be considered authentic feta from Greece and to carry the coveted label – Greek Feta – it has to be produced in the designated regions of Greece that have been granted the “protected designation of origin”; they include Thrace and the island of Lesbos, Macedonia, mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Epirus. The process and the use of sheep and goat to make the cheese is also a part of what contributes to the legitimacy of Greek Feta. Those produced outside the regions listed above, and made from sheep or goat’s milk must state on their packaging, “Feta style/type cheese” – variations of this labeling in the same vein differ around the world. As well, there are also types made from barn-raised cow’s milk labelled feta; which clearly, is not genuine feta.
In 2013, Canada honored the legal decision and trade agreement. Our mere location makes it mandatory for Canadian cheesemakers to add “feta style/type cheese” to their packaging. However those companies who were using the term prior are still allowed to use feta but they are not allowed to package with any artwork alluding to their cheese being Greek.
Generally, in regards to cow’s milk feta, companies are clear in the ingredients about feta made from this source. An example is the popular Canadian cheese brand Krinos, one of their offerings, organic feta is actually made from cow’s milk: https://krinos.ca/products/organic-feta-cheese/. Many of the American made feta cheeses are also produced from cow’s milk.
Cow’s milk feta is perfectly fine for most, but for those of us who are lactose intolerant it is a big deal; taking for granted that all feta is goat can cause a whole host of -avoidable- health related problems if eaten unintentionally. The reason I and so many others are able to digest the goat cheese easier than the cow cheese are the casein/proteins A1 and A2; cow is A1 and goats are A2 , and if you are lactose intolerant A2 is better for your digestion.
If you aren’t a cheese connoisseur and unable to tell the difference in taste between the cow’s milk feta style cheese and Greek Feta (albeit, goat and sheep’s cheese do have distinct flavors), the different source for feta may not be of concern for you.
So there you go, the answer: authentic Greek Feta from designated regions in Greece are made from sheep and goats milk, while elsewhere there are many brands producing feta from sheep, goat and cow’s milk. Maybe now, my friend won’t give me the look, the next time we head out for a bite.