In the fifteenth century, Charles VI gave dairies in Roquefort, France the exclusive right to the name Roquefort. Cheese made in other parts of the country—even if the same style—had to be come up with their own regional names. The idea was that different geographic regions have different environments that influence the qualities of the foods they produce—each had a unique terroir, "or taste of place." (Remember the Walla Walla onion?)
At any rate, this sort of geographic labeling is common in Europe. All kinds of foods are labeled with their Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)—you've probably seen it on wine and Parmesan cheese. In the U.S., though, we're able to get around it because of something called the Uruguay Round Agreement, which allows countries outside the EU to ignore these labels if they think the cheese name is generic.
Which brings me to feta. In Europe, as of 2002, feta was awarded PDO status. Countries like France and Denmark weren't pleased—they make a lot of feta cheese and argued the name is generic. They now have to call this style of cheese something else. (For an interesting discussion on the history and implications of PDO decisions, check out Cheese and Culture by Paul Kindstedt.)
In the United States, though, we're still free to use the name feta. I ran into a local feta at the West Tisbury Winter Farmers' Market from Mermaid Farm and Dairy in Chilmark during our visit in October, and today's Local Food Report is all about how they make it (click here to listen). Narragansett Creamery in Rhode Island also makes a cows' milk feta brined in sea salt, and in Massachusetts Chase Hill Farm makes a raw cows' milk feta, and Valley View Farm and Shepherd's Gate Dairy make goat milk feta.
Based on what I learned talking with the folks from Mermaid Farm for the show, it sounds like you could make feta at home. Has anyone out there tried it? How did it come out? Any tips?
And finally, a salad. Fresh spinach—still going strong in the outside garden!—sautéed red onion, warm feta. A drizzle of sherry vinegar, a touch of olive oil. A side of toast. Sit down—salt, napkin, fork—tuck in. Winter lunch on a rainy afternoon.
WARM SPINACH, RED ONION & FETA SALAD
Bon Appétit has a whole arsenal of great winter salad recipes. I found this one tucked near the end and immediately liked it immediately for its simplicity.
1/2 pound fresh spinach, preferably small leaves
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium red onion, halved, and cut into 1/3-inch thick wedges with some core attached
7 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
Wash the spinach, dry it, and put it in a big salad bowl. Warm up 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the onion and sauté until it starts to brown and get tender—about 6 minutes. Put the onion into the bowl with the spinach. Add the remaining oil and the feta cheese to the skillet and stir until the cheese just starts to melt, about a minute. Turn off the heat, add the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the spinach and onion. Toss it—the warmth from the feta and onion should wilt the spinach slightly. Serve immediately.