The earliest records of cheesemaking date all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey, where the Cyclops Polyphemus was the first to prepare feta’s ancestor.
According to the myth, he would transport the milk from his sheep in skin bags made out of animal stomachs when one day he realised to his great surprise that the milk had curdled and taken solid form – and actually tasted pretty good.
During the Archaic period, records pointed to Greeks producing a type of feta with sheep’s milk, using Polyphemus’ technique.
Feta cheese is first mentioned during Byzantine times and was called ‘prosphatos’ (meaning recent).
Pietro Casola, an Italian traveller visiting Crete in 1494, distinctly described the production and storage of feta in brine. But it was in the 17th century that Greeks started using the name ‘feta’ (meaning slice), which may refer to the practice of slicing up cheese to be stored in containers or cutting it in thin slices to be served.
All of this information suggests that feta cheese might be the oldest cheese in the world still eaten today.
Feta is Greece’s national cheese.
European Union legislation dictates that up to 30% goat’s milk may be used for a feta to attain a ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ (P.D.O.) product classification, and it must come from the same area as the sheep’s milk.
Since the early 20th century, feta cheese has established itself as a significant part of the Greek diet and is associated with the traditional lifestyle.