Nothing adds an extra flavour dimension to a pizza quite like fetta does. While gooey, stringy mozzarella is the star attraction of most classic pizzas, the tangy taste and creamy texture of fetta is the perfect compliment to a number of items on our menu, from beloved classics to our folded cheese pizza, and of course, our Mediterranean salad.
For many, cheese is a bit of an enigma though. Where did it come from and how do different types they differ so much? What exactly makes fetta so delicious – is it the flavour or texture or a combination of both? Let’s dive into the history of fetta and some of the amazing health benefits of this delicious cheese.
Not only is fetta delicious and versatile, it’s also light and nutritious. Here is a look at the history and health benefits of this ancient cheese.
What Is Fetta Cheese?
Fetta is a brined white cheese made either wholly from sheep’s milk, or a combination of goat’s and sheep’s milk. It has a firm yet crumbly texture which makes it great a addition to pizzas or salads. You will usually find fetta packaged in blocks soaking in brine, or in oil with herbs and garlic. It must be aged for a minimum of three months and is nutrient-rich and relatively low in fat (espeically in the cheese world). Aside from pizzas and salads, you’ll find fetta used in a number of pastries (think a spinach and fetta pie), as a spread or filling for sandwiches, or in omelettes.
A Brief History of Fetta
The roots of cheese-making cannot be traced to a particular date with absolute certainty, however, it is commonly agreed that the first processes of making cheese roughly align with the domestication of sheep some 10,000 years ago.
The earliest written record of cheese-making can be found in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. As the story goes, the cyclops Polyphemus would transport his milk in crude bags made from the lining of an animal’s stomach. One day, he noticed that the milk inside the bags has curdled into a solid mass. Of course, Polyphemus tried it, and much to his surprise, it actually tasted quite nice.
Although this story was written in myth, scientific evidence and historic texts have led us to believe that it was around this time that the Greek’s began producing fetta – although to them it was simply known as cheese. This early fetta was probably quite salty and sour – a less refined version of what we eat today, but very palatable nonetheless.
There is a legend which tells a similar tale about an Arab trader who discovered cheese in much the same way. As the use of stomachs of animals for transporting goods was a common practice in ancient times, there are probably countless other instances where this crude process of cheese-making was accidentally stumbled upon. However, it is the ancient Greeks who are widely considered the inventors of fetta.
By Roman times, cheese-making had become a mature and refined art, with various processes of salting, ageing, pressing and smoking being used to create a wide variety of cheeses.
The first recorded reference of fetta specifically was in Byzantine times under the name ‘prósphatos’ – which translates to “recent” or “fresh”- produced by the Cretans. An Italian traveler named Pietro Casola was visiting Crete in the late 15th century (right before the dissolution of the Byantine Empire) and distinctly described the marketing of fetta, as well as how it was stored in brine (unlike many other cheeses at the time).
In the 17th century, it was the Greeks who named the cheese ‘feta’ which comes from the Italian word ‘fetta’, which means slice.
Today there are quite a few variations of this delicious cheese, however, since 2002, for it to be called fetta, it must be made from sheep’s or goat’s in Greece. Other variations include Danish fetta, Persian fetta and fetta-style cheese (made in places such as Canada and Australia) which may be made with sheep and goats milk, or cow or buffalo milk.
The Health Benefits of Fetta
Although cheese often gets a bad wrap for being unhealthy, fetta is actually quite nutritious, with a number of health benefits. Here are seven health benefits of fetta:
• Help protect against cancer: Fetta is rich source of calcium which, when combined with vitamin D, is believed to have cancer-fighting properties. Not only that, but fetta contains the protein alpha-lactalbumin, which is said to have antibacterial and antitumor properties when bound to calcium and zinc ions.
• Promotes healthy bones: Calcium is well-known for being beneficial for teeth and bones. However, pasteurized cow’s milk, where most people get their calcium from, has a habit of increasing the levels of acid in the human body and can actually cause osteoporosis. Fetta on the other hand is an excellent source of calcium with none of the drawbacks of cow milk.
• Boosts your immune system: Fetta contains a vital protein called histidine which, when combined with vitamin B6 (also found in fetta cheese), undergoes a molecular process to become histamine – an inflammatory process. While an excess of inflammation within the body is not very good for you, in small doses and combined with a high anti-oxidant diet, helps your immune system fight disease.
• Helps prevent headaches and migraines: Fetta is a great source of riboflavin, which has long been known to fight headaches and migraines.
• Good for your eyes: Riboflavin is also great for your eyes!
• Helps fight anaemia (low haemoglobin levels in the blood): Anaemia, which can cause fatigue, is often associated with low levels of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12. Fetta contains both vitamin B12 and iron.
• A great source of probiotics: Probiotics are a type of good bacteria that line your gut – they are immunity boosters that help prevent many digestive problems. Fetta helps maintain the balance of probiotics in the stomach.