What Makes a Great Crumbled Feta Cheese?

No Greek dish is complete without a little feta cheese. A pleasantly salty and crumbly cheese, feta is a great accompaniment to crackers, breads and olives. It’s also a superb salad topping and baking ingredient. Take an extra block on your next picnic as an alternative to the usual cheddar and Monterey Jack, or crumble some into your next frittata. Our chefs define a high quality feta cheese as having a pale ivory hue. It should break apart in chunks rather than smaller crumbs. The tart and salty feta aroma should be bold, and the character of the cheese should not be easily confused with any other type of cheese. Feta cheese should have complex aroma character featuring an array of notes — including milk, slight fermentation, lactic tang, and grassy or earthy notes — and is expected to be similar to fresh cheeses such as ricotta, rather than aged cheeses like cheddar. Feta cheese achieves optimal taste balance when pronounced saltiness is the predominant basic taste, followed by a lower but noticeable sourness. There should be a touch of natural dairy sweetness but minimal bitterness. Distinct feta flavor should be the most intense of the flavors, as the presence of other cheese flavors could diminish the feta intensity and complexity. The feta cheese character should feature the same complex mix of notes as the aroma. There should be no inappropriate off notes that indicate poor handling or packaging. Feta cheese should have a slightly firm bite that is harder than Chèvre or goat cheese, but not as firm as Swiss cheese. It should be moist, but not as moist as fresh mozzarella. There should be slight chalkiness and waxiness leaving a coating on the palate, but not enough to keep the overall finish from being clean.

Tasting terms

  • aroma

    The smell that emanates from food. Along with appearance, texture, flavor and taste, aroma is one of the five dimensions used to evaluate a product. Example: Brownies should have an aroma that includes chocolate as well as egg, toasty and sweet notes.

  • character

    The combined aromas and flavors of a particular food or ingredient. The character of a food is considered simple when it is one-dimensional, but it is complex when it has many discernible ingredients. Example: Mole sauce has several ingredients that blend to give the sauce a complex character. Granulated sugar has a very simple character.

  • grassy

    A natural flavor or aroma suggesting grass. Example: Green tea, olive oil and some dairy products can have grassy notes.

  • flavor

    A combination of a food's basic taste and its accompanying aroma, flavor is the distinctive taste of a food or ingredient while it is in the mouth. Along with aroma, appearance, texture and taste, flavor is one of the five dimensions considered by ChefsBest Master Tasters. Example: Chocolate chip cookies should have a moderate chocolate flavor accompanied by a slightly lower level of complex dough flavor that includes egg, flour, vanilla and brown sugar notes.

  • off notes

    Inappropriate flavors, such as rancid or oxidized oils, freezer burn, plastic, metallic or other flavors acquired from a food’s packaging and storage. Example: Canned pineapple that picks up a metallic flavor from its can or stale flavors from freezer burn in a frozen entrée are types of off notes.