My Love Affair with Feta… and Why We Needed to Take a Break

My Love Affair with Feta… and Why We Needed to Take a Break

From a very young age my father instilled in me a love of cooking. Over the years he tried to teach me the culinary basics: the art of pairing flavors, the five mother sauces of French cuisine, the importance of making sure meat remains tender, and the fact that if you ask any Italian chef they will downright condemn putting cheese on seafood. Thinking back now, I realize that I have encountered fish and cheese before (your classic lox and cream cheese on an everything bagel), but for some reason this “no cheese on seafood” rule always stood out in my brain as an important one. That is, until I studied abroad this past semester in Athens, Greece. 

The Greeks are known for a lot of things, most notably being the founders of democracy, Platonic philosophy, and geometry (though I have not always been grateful for this invention). They are known for the Parthenon, Greek mythology (a very dear topic to any Percy Jackson fan), the Olympics… and finally, for feta. I knew the rest of the world loved Greece for their feta, but I was not yet aware of just how ardently the Greeks themselves loved feta. The first meal I had in Greece was a seafood medley with an entire block of feta on top. In that moment, my dad’s cooking advice came back to me, but I quickly learned that when you are in Greece, feta pairs perfectly with absolutely anything.

Seafood? You can put feta on that.

Chicken? Put some feta on it.

Roasted veggies? Feta.

Fruit? Yes, you can even put feta on that.

Breakfast muffins? THROW IN SOME FETA.

At first this discovery seemed like the best thing ever. Cheese? With anything and everything? Heaven. The first couple months I was buying fresh feta from the market every week, indulging in its soft and crumbly texture, the salty tanginess. We were in love. Every Tuesday morning I would pick up fresh feta at the local market to use throughout the week. I learned how to make traditional Greek tyropita (cheese pies) and spanakopita (spinach pies). I put feta on all my salads, pasta dishes, and sandwiches. I could not get enough of her.

But oh, how that changed. Suddenly it was like I could not escape feta. She was everywhere. She dominated my taste buds. I began trying to avoid feta whenever I could, and picking around her in the dishes that I could not. Although I picked up some Greek during my time abroad and many Athenians speak a good deal of English, every now and then the language barrier would still get in the way. Rushing to class one day, I popped in to a local bakery to grab a sandwich for lunch. Behind the glass I spotted what I assumed was a Caprese sandwich, with tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Now accustomed to the Greeks’ love of feta, I tried my best to inquire what kind of cheese was in the sandwich with a simple “mozzarella?”, which was met with an enthusiastic nod. Confident in my choice, I handed over my euros, took the sandwich from the woman’s hands, and immediately started to unwrap the sandwich. In my hurry to get to class, I neglected to closely examine the sandwich before taking my first bite. It took me by surprise because (as you probably have already guessed) the cheese in the sandwich was in fact feta.

By the time the semester was over, I was (excuse my cheesy pun) FETa UP with feta. Despite how grate cheese on every meal seems, you feta believe that I had reached my limit. I longed for a round of brie or a dusting of parmesan, anything but the cheese that had come to over power my life. I craved something different. Upon returning home and spending the summer in glamorous suburban New Jersey, I told my parents that I was not going to eat feta for the foreseeable future. We needed time away from each other to remember what we loved about each other.

This past Sunday, I did my grocery shop for the upcoming week. As I was scrounging the cheese aisle, I came across a blue carton of feta. I wondered to myself, has it been enough time? Can we find that spark again that we once shared? One cooking lesson of my father’s that i had always struggled with was the idea of everything in moderation. I am known for adding close to a full bulb of garlic, when the recipe only calls for a couple cloves. I can lose myself in the pages of a book for hours, even days, ignoring everything else going on in my life. How much of a good thing is a bad thing? As I grow older, I need to remind myself to look for balance whether it comes to my academics, my relationships, or even cooking.

In a moment of nostalgia and hope, I threw the carton into my basket. She sat in my fridge for a couple days until I decided to use make a salad for some friends the other day. I started off easy. Penne pasta, some olive oil, cherry tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, and feta. Simple. Clean. Delicious.