CULTURE

Going into new battles for feta

To the uninitiated, it may look like an unassuming white cheese, but humble feta has sparked fiercely fought skirmishes among European Union partners. Was feta the name of a traditional Greek curd cheese cured in brine – as the Greeks asserted – or was it a generic term, as cheesemakers in other countries claimed? The controversy gathered force in October 2002 when the European Commission decided to register feta as a Protected Designation of Origin. Denmark, France, Germany and the UK, where cheesemakers produce what they consider to be feta, challenged the decision. They lost in October 2005 when the European Court of Justice upheld the Commission’s decision. Now that particular battle has been won, the new challenge for feta, in the view of popular chef Yiannis Geldis, is to make the product better known and used more widely in a greater variety of recipes. He leads the charge with his latest book, «120 protaseis me feta» (120 Suggestions with Feta), just out from Erevnites publications. It is a book with a mission. As Geldis declares, «I shall try to make this book another ‘weapon’ in the fight to promote feta as designation of origin, and also as a means of healthy nutrition.» The 120 recipes here – well, most of them – do support his campaign. Versatile A curd cheese cured in brine and traditionally made from sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep and goat’s milk, feta is probably most familiar to diners worldwide as the tasty component of the «horiatiki» or village salad that is better known as Greek salad. Yet the simple but flavorsome cheese is much more versatile than most of us might guess, on the evidence of the 120 suggestions here. Some of the recipes do rather stretch the imagination with unexpected combinations: Think cheesecake with feta, strawberry tart with feta mousse, and mille-feuille with yogurt, feta and mint, and melon gazpacho with balls of feta. Geldis suggests using feta in familiar foods such as cheese pies, and in other foods where yellow cheese is more common, such as zucchini au gratin, and risotto and pasta dishes. He reworks classic recipes: fricassee of lamb with feta, stuffed cabbage rolls with mushrooms and feta are examples. And he invents new dishes. Try the stuffed portobello mushrooms pictured on the cover, the lamb chops with a crust of herbs and feta, and – why not? – the roast watermelon with marinated feta. Just as Italian emigrants took their cuisine with them, developing and refining it, Geldis wants Greek chefs to spread the word about feta in more adventurous recipes. What then is so special about feta that it gained the EU designation which Greece put up such a fight to retain? The cheese gets its distinctive flavor from the vegetation in certain parts of Greece – Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, central Greece, the Peloponnese and the island of Lesvos – where locally raised goats and sheep graze. Economic role And it has an important part to play in the Greek economy. As Agriculture Minister Alexandros Kontos notes in an introduction the book, apart from its high nutritional value, «feta is one of the most important agricultural products in Greece, because it depends to a great degree on the economies of mountains and unprivileged parts of the country.» What better way to discover the many virtues of feta cheese than through this book, which its author calls «a complete quintet of appetizers, pasta and rice, vegetables, main meals and desserts»?