Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pastures of Eden Feta Cheese from Israel - The Best Feta Ever

I love cheese made from all kinds of animal milks and from a variety of different regions. There is almost no cheese I've ever tasted that I didn't like but I never thought much about feta cheese. I always considered it to be just an ingredient in many Greek and other Mediterranean dishes, and that was OK, but I never considered it as an option to eat by itself as an appetizer or on a cheese board.

That was my opinion before I discovered the best feta cheese ever. While shopping at Trader Joe's one day I needed to pick up some feta for the spanikopita I planned to make later that day. The first one I saw on the shelf caught my attention for a few reasons. First, it was quite a large brick of feta, almost a full pound, and the package was quite attractive. It comes in a green and yellow package with a cartoon drawing of green and white colored sheep. Secondly, I normally think of feta cheese coming from Greece but this product was imported from Israel. The name, Pastures of Eden, was also quite pleasing and made me envision those green and white sheep peacefully grazing in the most beautiful pasture God could create. I enjoy trying new products and since this seemed different then other feta's I've had I decided to buy it.

Later that day when I was preparing my spanikopita I removed the feta from it's package and noticed that it was quite a bit more dense, moist, and creamy than the Greek feta's I've had. It didn't crumble as easily as I expected because it's more spreadable and creamy than it is dry and crumbly. Then I tasted it and my mouth confirmed just how creamy and delightful it looked. From that point on I never treat feta cheese as just an ingredient in Greek dishes. I have elevated it to one of my favorite cheeses to eat by itself, on a cracker, or as the star ingredient of a dish such as feta fondue. The taste is fresh and tangy and slightly salty with a hint of the rich, gamey flavor of the sheep's milk. The creamy texture allows it to coat all of your taste buds so you can taste it with your whole mouth. The rich flavor really took me by surprise and I immediately had to have another taste, then another, and yet another. Luckily it was a large brick of cheese and I only needed about 3/4 of it for my recipe.

I love to use this cheese in antipasti salads. Combine chunks of the feta with your favorite charcuterie, olives, chunks of cucumber, red onions, grape tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Add cooked pasta and serve it cold as a starter course before dinner, or as the main course for a light summer meal.
I also like to add the feta to a can of tomatoes to use as a simmering sauce for chicken. Season some chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Heat some olive oil in a skillet then add the chicken skin side down. Add some chopped shallots and garlic and cook until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over then add the tomatoes and some chicken stock and simmer covered for 20 minutes until the chicken is done. Remove the chicken to a platter then add the feta and some chopped olives. Continue simmering the sauce until it thickens. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. This dish is simple but so delicious!!
Enjoy the best feta ever!

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