Kitchen & Pantry

Is Apetina the same as feta cheese?

I’m such a sucker for “buy one, take one” items in the supermarket, especially when the item is cheese. A couple of days ago, it was Arla Food’s apetina cheese. I’ve never had apetina cheese before because it’s expensive. But, at fifty per cent off, the price was reasonable. I checked the expiration date on the boxes, the date was some three weeks into the future, cheese doesn’t last that long in our house, so, I bought the apetina.

The label said that apetina was spreadable but could also but cut into cubes. That’s a curious description for cheese texture. Spreadable cheeses are often too soft and creamy to be cut into cubes. The label also instructed that the cheese be first drained from its brine before use. Is Apetina the same as feta cheese?

Two days later, I opened the first box of apetina. I tasted it and it was wonderfully briny and creamy. Is Apetina the same as feta cheese?

Despite the creaminess, surprisingly, the apetina could be crumbled by hand. How like feta cheese, I thought. Maybe, I could make Greek-style pizza with it. And I did.

Hours after the pizza was baked and eaten, and pushed by Speedy’s remark that the apetina would be perfect for a salad (just like feta), I started searching for more information about apetina. Lo, and behold! There seems to have been a serious controversy between the makers of feta and makers of cheese who sold their products under the “feta” label. Arla Food’s apetina was one of those involved in the controversy.

From Wikipedia:

The Greek word “feta” comes from the Italian word fetta (“slice”)…

Traditionally, feta has been made by peasants in the lower Balkan peninsula from sheep’s milk, although goat’s milk has been used in more recent times.

After a long legal battle with Denmark, which produced a cheese under the same name using artificially blanched cow’s milk, the term “feta” has been a protected designation of origin (PDO) since July 2002, which limits the term within the European Union to feta made exclusively of sheep’s/goat’s milk in Greece. According to the Commission, the biodiversity of the land coupled with the special breeds of sheep and goats used for milk is what gives feta cheese a specific aroma and flavor.

When needed to describe an imitation to feta, names such as “salad cheese” and “Greek-style cheese” are used. The European Commission gave other nations five years to find a new name for their “feta” cheese, or to stop production. Because of the decision by the European Union, Danish dairy company Arla Foods changed the name of their product to apetina (underscores mine).

Moreover, according to Epikouria magazine, because of the complexity of the curing process, feta is essentially an artisan cheese. This claim is qualified by Fetamania which says that:

Today, Feta is prepared in Greece either in small family-run dairies where traditional technology is applied, or in industrial units equipped with modern equipment aiming at the minimisation of production cost and the improvement of quality, that still respect the basic principles of the traditional technology of cheese making.

But whether made by hand or machine, feta is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, or a combination of the two. Any cheese that is made from other animal’s milk, even if it looks and tastes similar to feta, is not real feta.

From the consumer’s point of view, how do we know the difference? For instance, in supermarkets, feta cheese is often sold in portions in vacuum-sealed packs. Obviously, cut from a much bigger chunk. I mean, retailers can’t sell whole barrels of feta — who would buy that? But the S&R label does not contain any information about the manufacturer, the ingredients or the country where the cheese was made. Sure, it’s white. Sure, it looks like feta. But is it feta? Heck, who knows?

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