For the love of feta

Greece has declared war on white cheeses, launching 2008 as the «Year of Feta» and hoping promotion of its trademark salty cheese will win more international clients. Despite winning the exclusive right to call its white cheese feta in 2005, after a long battle within the European Union, Greece has a surprisingly small share of the international white cheese market, which is dominated by Denmark and Germany. «The main aim is to promote the product abroad and aggressively increase its market share of white cheese,» said a senior Agriculture Ministry official after the first government meeting on the issue this week. Feta is believed to have been produced in Greece for about 6,000 years from a blend of sheep and goat milk and is still a big hit domestically. Greeks consume about 100,000 tons a year – on salads, cooked in pies or as a snack – and the cheese is also a hit among millions of visiting tourists. But Greece only exports 40,000-50,000 tons of feta a year compared with a total international white cheese consumption of about 650-700,000 tons, the ministry said. «With 2008 dedicated to feta, we hope businesses supported by the government will win a bigger share of the international white cheese market for our own unique cheese,» said Yiannis Moulias, marketing director at Dodoni, one of the largest feta producers in Greece. «This is excellent news.» Feta’s biggest foreign markets are the United States and Australia, where millions of ethnic Greeks live, as well as the European Union. Moulias said Dodoni was now also eyeing China. Agriculture Minister Alexandros Kontos has discussed the plan with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who two years ago actively promoted Greek olive oil abroad, getting the nickname «oil merchant» by the local olive oil industry. A committee has been set up to draft a plan within 30 days on the best ways to sell feta abroad – perhaps even taking advantage of this year’s Beijing Olympics as a promotion platform. «You cannot compare feta with any white cheese,» Athens cheese merchant Nikos Simeonidis said. «There are so many varieties of feta.»