Although 85% of the feta in Europe is consumed in Greece, world levels of feta consumption are high. The average (per capita) annual consumption of Feta in Greece is more than 12 Kg, out of a total cheese consumption of 25 Kg, which is the highest in the world. Greek feta cheese exports are rising during the last years, to 35 countries in 5 continents (Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and Africa). Specifically for 2012, according to Greek Statistical Service, 3 countries, i.e. Germany, United Kingdom and Italy, account for 65.89% of total feta cheese exports. Cyprus follows accounting for 7.91% of Greek feta cheese exports, Sweden 7.77%, USA 5.72%, Austria 3.56%, Australia 3.55%, France 2.13%, Switzerland 1.89% and Bulgaria for 20.01%.
According to the National Cheese Institute, Greek feta cheese sales in major super market chains in the U.S. reached 8,000 tons in 2011, with a total value of $171.7 million. The majority of the sales concerns feta cheese produced and consumed in Greece.
The US market features different companies selling Greek feta cheese, such as Athenos (a subsidiary of Kraft Foods based in Wisconsin,) Boar’s Head and Klondike Cheese of Monroe. Popular Greek-American companies active in domestic feta cheese production and sale are, among others, Krinos, Fantis Foods, Kontos Foods, Altamira Foods and Boboris Imports.
It is a crumbly aged cheese, commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture. High-quality feta should have a creamy texture when sampled, and aromas of ewe's milk, butter, and yoghurt. In the mouth it is tangy, slightly salty, and mildly sour, with a spicy finish, as well as a hint of sweetness.
It is sold in wooden barrels or metal vessels, depending on the producer; however, barrel aging is said to give the cheese a unique flavor and is more traditional. The containers are then shipped to supermarkets where the cheese is cut and sold directly from the container; alternatively blocks of standardized weight are packaged in sealed plastic cups with some brine. Feta dries relatively quickly even when refrigerated; if stored for longer than a week, it should be kept in brine or in lightly salted milk
The earliest references to cheese production in Greece date back to the 8th century BC and the technology used to make cheese from sheep's or goat's milk, as described in Homer's Odyssey involving the contents of Polyphemus's cave, is similar to the technology used by Greek shepherds today to produce feta. Cheese made from sheep's/goat's milk was a common food in ancient Greece and an integral component of later Greek gastronomy. Feta cheese, specifically, is first recorded in the Byzantine Empire (Poem on Medicine 1.209) under the name prósphatos (Greek: πρόσφατος, "recent" or "fresh"), and was produced by the Cretans and the Vlachs of Thessaly. In the late 15th century, an Italian visitor to Candia, Pietro Casola, describes the marketing of feta, as well as its storage in brine.
Feta is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads (e.g. the Greek salad) and pastry fillings. Mostly used in the popular phyllo-based pies spanakopita ("spinach pie") and tyropita ("cheese pie"), or served with some olive oil and sprinkled with oregano. It can also be cooked, grilled or pickled. (recipe)
After a long legal battle with Denmark, which produced a cheese under the same name using chemically blanched cow's milk, the term "feta" has been a protected designation of origin (PDO) since October 2002, which limits the name "feta" within the European Union to brined cheese made exclusively of sheep's/goat's milk in Greece.
In 2013, an agreement was reached with Canada in which feta made in Canada would be called "feta style" cheese, and would not depict on the label anything evoking Greece.
According to the Commission, the biodiversity of the land coupled with the special breeds of sheep and goats used for milk is what gives feta cheese a specific aroma and flavor. When needed to describe an imitation feta, names such as "salad cheese" and "Greek-style cheese" are used. The European Commission gave other nations five years to find a new name for their "feta" cheese, or stop production. Because of the decision by the European Union, Danish dairy company Arla Foods changed the name of its white cheese products to Apetina, which is also the name of an Arla food brand established in 1991