Thursday, June 20 2024

Was Feta’s roots first mentioned in Homer’s “Odyssey”?


Unknown to many people, the first mention of the famous Feta cheese is seemingly as old as Homer’s “Odyssey”.

The famous sheep milk cheese, a beloved part of Greek salad and cheese pies, is perhaps Greece’s most famous dairy product and appears to have very historical roots.

Odyssey, which is believed to have been composed in the 8th Century BC, recounts the mythology of Odysseus and his men entering the cave of Cyclops Polyphemus.

The first thing the Ithaca king and his men notice is the smell and sight of the rich, white cheese made with goat and sheep milk in brine.

Homer writes:

“We entered the cave, but he wasn’t there, only his plump sheep grazed in the meadow. The woven baskets were full of cheese, the folds were full of sheep and goats and all his pots, tubs and churns where he drew the milk, were full of whey. When half of the snow-white milk curdled he collected it put it in the woven baskets and kept the other half in a tub to drink. Why my good ram are you the last to leave the fold? You have never been left behind by the flock before. You were always first walking ahead to graze the tender sheets of grass”.

According to myth, Cyclops Polyphemus made the cheese that was later to be called feta by accident when he transported the milk that he collected from his sheep in skin bags made of animal stomachs and realised that the milk curdled and became solid, tasty and conservable.

This is believed to be the ancient roots of the famous feta cheese, which took its modern form in the 17th century.

The Greek word feta (φέτα) comes from the Italian fetta ‘slice’, which in turn is derived from the Latin offa ‘morsel, piece’.

Meaning slice, it probably refers to the practice of cutting the cheese in slices to be placed into barrels.

Since 2002, feta has been a protected designation of origin in the European Union.

EU legislation and similar legislation in 25 other countries limits the name feta to cheeses produced in the traditional way in mainland Greece and Lesbos Prefecture, which are made from sheep’s milk, or from a mixture of sheep’s and up to 30% of goat’s milk from the same area.