Is feta vegetarian?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is feta vegetarian?” and will discuss feta cheese alternatives.

Is feta vegetarian?

No, feta is not a vegetarian. Because it is prepared with animal rennet, traditional feta is not suitable for vegetarians. Vegan rennet may be used to make it a suitable option for vegetarians. As a rule, it’s best to verify the label or consult your cheesemonger before making a final decision.

For example, some producers use animal rennet, while others use vegetable rennet. Traditional feta is always prepared using sheep or goat’s milk and animal rennet and should be stated on the ingredient list.

Traditional feta cheese

Feta is a crumbly or grainy white soft cheese. For the most part, feta is made from a mixture of sheep or goat milk and salt. Feta has become an essential part of Greek cuisine. It’s interesting to note that it’s a major issue in many nations and throughout the globe. We can use it to spice up even the most basic of meals and make them taste even better.

Feta cheese is classified as a white brined cheese. Traditionally, they were mainly made from sheep’s and goat’s milk. As the milk fat of these species does not contain carotenoids, the resulting cheeses are white in color. are made from raw (where permitted), pasteurized (e.g. 72 ◦C × 15 s or 63 ◦C × 30 min) or thermised (where permitted, e.g. 65 ◦C × 5 min or equivalent) ewe’s, goat’s, buffalo’s or cow’s milk or, often, from mixtures of milks. The great majority of white brined cheeses are rennet coagulated and brine-salted cheeses, although some of them are dry-salted (e.g. Feta) or the salt is added directly to the cheese milk (e.g. Domiati). Yogurt was the traditional starter culture for many of these cheeses. Nowadays, various cultures are used as starters: thermophilic cultures such as yogurt, mesophilic cultures or various combinations of mesophilic and thermophilic cultures. In raw milk cheeses the native microflora of the milk may be used for acidification (1).

The English term “Slice” is a euphemism for the Greek word “Feta.” Feta is a cheese that dates back to ancient times and has Greek origins. The annual output of feta cheese in Greece is the greatest in the world. They employ fat-rich milk in the production process. Sheep or goat milk may be used to make this product. It’s not uncommon to see a combination of the two.

Animal rennet is used to improve the quality of feta cheese. Because it affects the feta’s texture, whether it’s creamy or gritty. The enzyme Chymosin is abundant in this animal rennet. However, Iranian UF-Feta cheese made from bovine milk is manufactured in modern dairy plants from ultra-filtered and pasteurized milk with mesophilic starter cultures and commercial microbial rennet (2).

As a result, this enzyme’s primary role is to convert the milk into a semi-solid curd. The initial stage in the production of feta cheese is the development of curd. The reason feta cheese is not vegetarian should now be clear to you.

What does feta taste like?

You now know for certain if feta cheese is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. So, what’s the flavor of feta, then? It has a salty, tangy flavor that pairs well with a variety of foods.

It also has a buttery flavor and a crumbly texture. It’s a delicious treat. Feta made with sheep’s milk is creamier and tastier than feta made with cow’s milk. However, the goat’s milk feta is firmer. Feta’s salty or tangy flavor makes it a popular ingredient in a variety of dishes. Feta is a terrific addition to salads, sandwiches, and pastries, but it’s also delicious on its own.

Feta cheese and Feta-type cheese have a salty taste with an acid flavor. Although it was manufactured from raw milk to have the unique flavors obtained by natural microflora, it is currently produced from pasteurized milk to ensure food safety and to achieve a more standardized product in terms of its composition, functionality, and organoleptic properties. Feta cheese and Feta-type cheese can be produced from whole milk, partially skimmed, or skim milk. The composition of Feta cheese and Feta-type cheese made from whole milk ranges from 45–60% moisture, 10–20% fat, 15–20% protein, 4.6–5.3 pH, and 5–10% salt (3). Generally, the concentration of volatile fatty acids is higher in cheeses made from sheep’s or goat’s milk than in those from cow’s milk. Despite the milk used, acetic acid is the dominant volatile carboxylic acid. It can be formed from fermentation of lactose by lactic acid bacteria, but also as a result of citrate and lactate metabolism or as a product of amino acid catabolism (1).

In addition, feta is an important part of one’s diet. Fatty acids, protein, and vital minerals are all found in feta.

Feta Cheese Types 

Many nations make feta cheese, even though most of it is made in Greece. It is possible to get feta in as many as six distinct variants.

Ingredients, cooking methods, and flavor profiles may all vary widely amongst these dishes. The differences are related to the milk origin (goat, buffalo, sheep or cow milk), the rennet (traditional or microbial rennet), the milk fat content (skim or whole milk), the starter culture (yogurt, mesophilic and thermophilic cultures), pH and time of curing, brining time and type (1). Here, I’m going to focus on three of the most important forms of feta.

An American Feta’s production procedure is normally made from cow’s milk. Because of this, the conventional feta’s texture is dramatically altered. It has a crumblier texture than the original. It also has a milder flavor than regular feta.

Southern France is home to a kind of feta known as French Feta. It uses sheep’s milk in its cheese-making technique. As a result, the feta in France is creamier and buttery in texture. It has a milder flavor than regular feta. Some French fetas, such as goats’ milk feta, have a tangier flavor.

When it comes to making feta cheese, things are done a little differently in Bulgaria than they are elsewhere. It is made from the fat-rich milk of ewes. The feta in this variation is softer and creamier in texture.

It’s also not flaky in texture. As a result, its flavor is more savory and less acidic than that of the Greek feta cheese.

What Are the Best Alternatives to Feta Cheese?

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume that you’re looking for vegan cheeses. There is no use of animal rennet in making vegetarian cheeses.

Usually, fresh acidified cheeses are rennet-free cheeses. Fresh cheeses are unripened cheeses, which are manufactured by the coagulation of milk, cream or whey using acid, or a combination of acid heat. The production of fresh acid cheeses typically involves the addition of a starter culture to skim milk. Under these conditions, the milk undergoes slow quiescent acidification resulting in the formation of a gel at a pH value near the isoelectric pH of casein (typically 4.8-4.6). The gel is then stirred and concentrated by one of the several techniques, such as centrifugation or ultrafiltration, which involve removal of whey or permeate. Examples of these cheeses are Mozzarella, Ricotta, Cream and Cottage cheese (4). 

Vegan cheeses use microbial rennet rather than animal rennet. These are all the vegan cheeses that can be used to replace feta completely. So, if you want to mimic the flavor and texture of feta in your recipe, you may use them.

Cream cheese

To replace feta, use Cream Cheese as the finest equivalent you can find. White, soft cheese, Cream Cheese, may be used in a variety of cuisine preparations. Cream cheese has a sweet flavor, but it may be made salty like feta by sprinkling it with salt. Cream cheese may be used in both sweet and savory dishes as a feta alternative. Cream cheese is produced from standardized (Double Cream Cheese (DCC), 8-12%, w/w, fat; Single Cream Cheese (SCC) 3.0-5.0%, w/w, fat), homogenized, pasteurized (72-75 ~ for 15-90s) milk or cream. Homogenisation is important for the following reasons: (i) it reduces fat loss on subsequent whey separation; (ii) it brings about, via coating of fat with casein and whey protein, the conversion of naturally emulsified fat globules into pseudo-protein particles which participate in gel formation on subsequent acidification. The incorporation of fat by this means into the gel structure gives a smoother and firmer curd (similar to yogurt manufacture) and therefore is especially important for the quality of cold-pack (4).

Goat cheese may also be used to provide a crumbly texture. As with Feta, goat cheese has a salty and tangy flavor that is similar to feta. As a result, your cuisine will have the same flavor as feta.

Ricotta

Ricotta cheese is another alternative to feta. For vegetarians, ricotta is the finest choice. Milk from goats or cows is needed to make ricotta. For coagulation purposes, there is no usage of any animal enzymes whatsoever. Because organic acids have a role in milk coagulation. 

Ricotta cheese is an acid-heat coagulated cheese. Ricotta cheese is made from heat-acid precipitation of proteins from whey or whey-milk blends. The best Ricotta is made from very sweet whey (pH 6.4 – 6.5) without any addition of milk or acid. During heating, whey proteins begin to coagulate at about 70°C. The rate of coagulation increases as the temperature is raised to 90°C and a thick layer of curd forms on the surface of the whey. When coagulation is complete and the curd is firm (after 10 – 20 min at 90°C), the curd is removed with perforated scoops and placed in forms. After removing the first rise, the addition of acid (to about pH 5.9) will induce a second rise of coarser curd. If the pH is correct, the whey should become clear (5). Ricotta cheese contains 25% dry matter, 8% fat, 12% protein, 3.6% lactate and a pH value of 5.8 (4).

Traditional feta is saltier, while ricotta has a tangier flavor. Ricotta, in my view, is a great addition to salads, pasta dishes, and more. I bet you’ll be delighted with the results of substituting ricotta for feta.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is made using microbial rennet, rather than animal enzymes, in the process. Cottage cheese, on the other hand, is the ideal choice for vegetarians. The texture of cottage cheese is quite similar to that of feta. However, each has a distinct flavor. Cottage cheese has a softer flavor than feta, yet it pairs well with a wide variety of foods.

Cottage cheese manufacturing typically begins with pasteurized skim milk, which is then inoculated with an active lactic starter to raise the acid content and rennet to speed coagulation. Rennet is added for a rapid coagulation of milk in the cheesemaking process. Depending on the type of cottage cheese being made and the amount of active lactic starter used, the inoculated milk is held for 5–16 h at a temperature of 32°C (89.6°F). This allows the lactic starter to reproduce and acidify the milk, and the mixture to coagulate properly. The resulting coagulated milk is then cut into cubes that will form the curds that are seen in cottage cheese. Then, the mixture is cut, increasing whey draining, and rinsed with warm and cold water. Most other forms of cheese are then pressed, but cottage cheese is not, thus retaining significantly more moisture and does not form a solid block (6).

Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.

Is in and out vegetarian?

Is humectant 422 vegetarian?

Is human vegetarian by nature?

Is freshly vegetarian?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is feta vegetarian?” and discussed feta cheese alternatives.

References

  1. Alichanidis, Efstathios, and Anna Polychroniadou. Characteristics of major traditional regional cheese varieties of East-Mediterranean countries: a review. Dairy Sci Technol, 2008, 88, 495-510.
  2. Karami, M., et al. Changes in the rheological properties of Iranian UF-Feta cheese during ripening. Food chem, 2009, 112, 539-544.
  3. Hammam, Ahmed RA, et al. Compositional and Functional Characteristics of Feta-Type Cheese Made from Micellar Casein Concentrate. Foods, 2021, 11, 24.
  4. Schulz-Collins, D., and B. Senge. Acid-and acid/rennet-curd cheeses part A: Quark, cream cheese and related varieties. Cheese: Chemistry, physics and microbiology. Vol. 2. Academic Press, 2004. 301-328.  
  5. Hill, Arthur, and Mary Ann Ferrer. Culture and Rennet Activity Tests. Cheese Making Technology e-Book. 2021.
  6. Malcata, F. Xavier, and J. M. Kongo. Cheese: types of cheeses-soft. Encyclopedia of Food and Health. 2016.