As TikTok entered the lives of teenagers worldwide over the last few years, parents struggled to see how mimicking ‘influencers’ could ever be produced.
One bewildering fad replaced another at breakneck speed.
And this new app didn’t seem like it would ever inspire teenagers to do anything creative or useful – like, say, cook dinner.
Or, so we thought.
In February 2019, the same month that TikTok reached a billion downloads worldwide, Finnish food blogger Jenni Häyrinen (liemessa. fi) published a recipe on her pasta blog oven-baked feta cheese.
It gave it a hashtag: #uunifetapasta (oven feta pasta).
Jokingly, she asked her readers: “Have you tried this viral pasta? I have, this morning when I came up with it”.
She had no idea she had just shared a prophecy.
TikTok celebrates ‘International Uunifetapasta Day’
Last month, TikTokers celebrated International Uunifetapasta Day, cooking for their families and boosting feta cheese sales around the world.
The recipe is a simple one – basically Greek “bougiourdi” (baked feta) with pasta: Place a block of feta and a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and top with chilli, salt and pepper. Bake, and mix the creamy goodness with some cooked pasta and basil.
The bougiourdi is a unique delicacy for those who love cheese. Made in the oven utilizing a small ceramic pan, the main ingredients are feta cheese, yellow hard cheese, green pepper and spicy green pepper, tomato, oregano and olive oil.
Häyrinen knew it was a good recipe, but never could she have imagined that the simple dish would go on to impact sales of feta cheese as it did, first in Finland and then, riding a viral wave on TikTok two years later, worldwide.
Her original blog post in Finnish has over 2.7 million views. To put that into perspective, consider that Finland is a country of 5.5 million people.
Still, those numbers are nothing compared to what happened after American blogger MacKenzie Smith (grilledcheesesocial.com) translated the recipe. Seeing it go viral on her Instagram, she then posted a video tutorial to TikTok in January.
Yumna Jawad (feelgoodfoodie.net) liked it and posted it too, using the hashtag #fetapasta, which now has over 600 million views.
“It’s overwhelming,” Häyrinen, who loves Greek food, says in an email. “I knew it was going viral in the States, but the final confirmation was when I was contacted by newspaper US Today, and they told me it was viral after big accounts posted it. After that, I decided to join TikTok too”.
The Wall Street Journal reported that feta sales at supermarket chain Fresh Market Inc. went up 45%.
Walshe Birney, who oversees the specialty-cheese counters at US supermarket chain Kroger, was quoted in the New York Times saying that “This is the largest and most geographically broad interest and sales increase in a product that I have personally ever seen.”
While in Europe, feta cheese is a PDO (protected designation of origin) product, meaning that only cheese made in Greece with milk from ewes and goats may be called feta, that’s not the case in the US, and American cheesemakers have seen a huge increase in demand of their product.
However, Krinos Foods chairman Eric Moscahlaidis reported to the New York Times that they were also able to persuade some supermarkets (Walmart and Costco) to run trial sales of real Greek feta due to the TikTok trend.
“I only use authentic Greek feta in my baked feta pasta and my kitchen,” says Häyrinen. “The feta sold in Finland is imported from Greece. It does make a difference.
“In Finland, there is also a similar cheese that is often called ‘salad cheese’, but it’s not the same at all. It does not melt in the same way, and the taste is not that good. It is a simple recipe so that I would pay attention to the quality of the ingredients.”
As a protected designation of origin (PDO) product in Europe, the production of Greek feta follows the strict European specifications under which a product can be certified as PDO. The specifications identify the quality or characteristics of the product which are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors, and the production steps which also take place in the defined geographical area.
Feta has been produced traditionally in Greece since the 8th century BC, exclusively from sheep’s milk or a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk.
There are over 6,000 species of plants that sheep and goats graze on, and of the 6,000 species, 15% are unique to Greece, which accounts for the delicious complexity of flavour in real Greek Feta.
Feta is never made from cow’s milk.
White, brined cow’s milk cheeses, often chalky and tasteless, should never be confused with the creamy, flavourful, real PDO Greek feta.
Thanks to @alexakan for the video.