For the Love of Feta: My Relationship with a Block of Cheese & My Dad
How a piece of cheese evokes Saturday mornings with my Dad.
For as long as I can remember, I have despised breakfast. The smell of eggs and bacon in the morning repulses me. The notion of digging into a muffin leaves me cold. The fact that someone would be excited about ‘breakfast for dinner’ shocks me. I know I am in the minority here. Americans love breakfast.
So, to my parents’ dismay, they had to come up with a solution. And while I could eat gallons of Reese’s Pieces cereal, they needed to get some nutrition in me. As I’m sure you know, breakfast is the most important part of the day. My Dad, being Greek American, came up with a solution.
On our big wood cutting board, he made little piles of various Mediterranean foods. Top right corner: cherry tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil; lower left corner, Persian cucumbers cut in spheres, lightly salted; kalamata olives, tzatziki, hummus, dolmades, and sliced French bread would round out the squad. This, in our household, was known as a “Turkish Breakfast.” Why did we call it that? My father’s ancestors were from Greece and besides the trite rivalry between the two countries, maybe my Dad named our Saturday breakfasts that to stir the pot with his family members.
My favorite all of my options was feta. Cheese is a food group I hold near and dear to my heart, but feta was my first love. I loved everything about it; the consistency, the flavor, the convenience of it all. I could tell when it was bought from a chain or a legitimate Greek market. There are a few different types of feta. They all differ in delicious ways (and depending on how you want to eat your feta) pair well in certain dishes.
Types of Feta
Bulgarian feta: Saltier and less juicy than Greek; could be used in a salad as the taste won’t overpower other vegetables; easy to eat drizzled under olive oil, but really all feta deserves such treatment.
French feta: The French tend to make their feta softer with a creamier texture. You could easily whip it up as a spread, add some dill or honey and create a simple, yet satisfying crostini.
Greek feta: You should buy your feta in brine, it holds the flavor better and maintains the saltiness. Greek feta can be devoured anyway you like it, but add it over cooked string beans with stewed tomatoes (also known as Fasolakia), and you might die and go to heaven.
Food & Family
My relationship with feta has not changed since moving out of the house, and into the real world. But I have taken my breakfast eating habits with me.
I shop at certain grocery stores because they have the best feta. Mainstream groceries stores don’t have adequate feta, I don’t fuck with the dry crumbled kind either. Whole Foods, like most things sold there, tries to make feta into something that it’s not. And Trader Joe’s gets my approval with a tasty feta in brine, albeit it’ll set you back six bucks.
But, if you want authentic feta, you will have to track it down. Go to an Armenian shop or find a Persian stall at the Farmer’s Market. Other mediterranean cultures have feta options. You have to taste samples until you find the right one for you. It should not be bland, overly salty, or chewy.
Feta for me, was not only a cheese I ate regularly (yes, okay, everyday) it was a connection to a culture I wanted to know more about. My main love of feta stems from who introduced me to my beloved dairy intake, my Dad. Not only did he find a solution to my breakfast habit, but he found a Saturday morning ritual that didn’t include cartoons. We would put out the breakfast together, place the portions in their designated area, and bond. Eventually, he would show me how to cook; teaching me how to eyeball recipes, how to handle a knife properly, and how to react to fucking something up before your guests arrived.
And yes, it always comes back to feta. Because as an adult, if I find a restaurant has a good “strain” of feta, or a market in a weird part of town had the best brine-to-feta-ratio, I call him up to share the news. And as my Dad gets older, and as my life gets busier, feta is a constant reminder of him, of our time together in the kitchen, and an important piece of bonding that I will inevitably pass down to someone, someday, on a Saturday morning.