If you happen to choose Homer's Odyssey as your summer paperback, don't be surprised by a craving for feta cheese while swaying in the hammock. Some say that the cheese Polyphemus the Cyclops made in his cave was an early version of feta. This dates feta, one of the world's oldest cheeses, back to eighth-century BC when it would have been made with sheep's milk. Today there are styles of feta cheese made from either cow or goat milk, but under the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin law, true Feta must be made primarily from sheep's milk and produced in designated areas of Greece. For those of us not Greece-bound, Ontario dairy co-operative Ewenity makes a sheep-milk feta that gives us a taste of the original.
For cheese maker Elisabeth Bzikot and husband Eric, it made sense to try feta as one of their first products when they began making cheese. Their traditional recipe comes from the Greek grandmother of an employee who worked at the creamery early on. Ms. Bzikot says, "The beauty of feta is that it's relatively simple to make and will last a long time. It isn't sensitive and doesn't need a lot of care."
Simple or not, the Bzikots' philosophy is to take no short cuts. As Ms. Bzikot jokes, "Sweeping the floor is a simple job, but it can be done badly or it can be done well."
The Ewenity feta is done extremely well. It's creamy white, slightly mottled and has a moist, dense texture with small holes throughout. Sheep milk produces a more crumbly feta that's creaminess comes through in its smooth flavour. It is tangy but well rounded, with a nice linger. The Ewenity feta is salty but not overwhelmingly so and comes both pasteurized and raw. Ms. Bzikot describes the raw version as more complex with a "fuller bouquet."
To make the Ewenity feta, rennet (vegetarian-friendly) and culture are added to the sheep milk. Once set, the curd is cut and stirred at 30 degrees for a half hour. It is put into rectangular cheddar moulds and allowed to drain overnight. The next day the blocks of feta are cut into strips, salted and put into pails where they are allowed to firm up for two days before being submerged in whey. Finally the feta is packaged into 200g portions and stored in brine, which acts as a preservative and prevents the cheese from drying out.
Summer is the perfect time of year to enjoy feta with its fresh, tangy flavours. Its salty essence perfectly contrasts the sweetness of a fruit plate as easily as it adds savour to a luncheon omelette. Just be wary of any recipes you find in The Odyssey - other than being innovative cheese makers the Cyclopes were also a society of cannibals.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.
On the block
Cheese Ewenity Feta
Producer Ewenity Dairy Co-Op and Best Baa Farm
Owner Bzikot Family
Cheese Maker Elisabeth Bzikot
Milk raw and pasteurized sheep
Type semi-soft, moulded, rindless, preserved in brine
Shape sold in 200g containers
Distributor Provincial Fine Foods and direct from http://www.ewenity.com
Toronto: Whole Foods, Cheese Boutique, Nancy's Cheese, About Cheese (raw milk), Healthy Butcher, Thin Blue Line, The Big Carrot
Kitchener: Kitchener Farmer's Market
Ottawa: Jacobson's Gourmet
Meaford: Hundred Mile Market