The Fight to Be Europe’s Sole Producer of Feta Cheese

Which Country is Granted the Right to be Europe’s Sole Producer of Feta Cheese?

Cubed feta cheese in olive wood bowl and green and black olives on rustic wooden background. Greece is the only country in Europe allowed to produce feta cheese and call it as such.

Since the 2002 establishment of Feta as a name with Protected Designation of Origin status, Greece has the right to be Europe’s sole producer of feta cheese. In a 2005 landmark decision, the European Court of Justice reaffirmed this right in a legal fight with Denmark and Germany.

Feta Wars: The Decades Long Battle to Call Feta, Feta

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Greece, it’ll come to no surprise that Feta is kinda important to Hellenic culture.

When we toured the country a few years back, we ate Feta with almost every meal. Feta fries, feta omelettes, feta and olives, whipped feta, fried feta, baked feta pasta….

It was a delicious trip, and I’ve since embraced non-Greek use of Feta, such as with my Black Bean Feta Dip.

Fried feta cheese topped with baked char grilled tomatoes and green peppers in an earthenware dish. Prior to 2002 there was some question as to which country is granted the right to be Europe's sole producer of Feta cheese

When in Rome, right?

To the casual observer, Greece and Feta go together like brie and baguettes (or manchego and chorizo). The Greeks have been making Feta for around 6000 years, and it’s even referenced in some of the greatest works of Greek literature, including Homer’s Odyssey (when Odysseus comes across Feta in cyclops Polyphemos’ cave).  

Beneath this casual association of Hellenic culture, cuisine, and history with one of the world’s most popular cheeses, however, lies a longstanding disagreement between Greece and some of its European friends over the right to call label their cheesy white gold as Feta.

Protected Designation of Origin

Since 2002, Feta has been registered as a PDO, or protected designation of origin, with the European Commission. This granted the right to Greece alone to market their cheese as Feta.

PDO is a European designation that protects local agricultural products, as well as traditional recipes and production methods.

It’s recognizes the knowledge that, for many traditional food products (and wines), the local culture, terroir, and history goes hand-in-hand with the end product, and contributes to its unique taste. In other words, it’s the land, the people, and the traditions that make the product, and without all three, the product would be inherently different.

Probably the most well known example of PDO foods and wines is champagne (which comes from the Champagne region of France only), but there are plenty of others – including feta.

Say Hello to Salad Cubes

Whereas Greece has been making feta for 6000 years, Denmark and Germany have been marketing a feta-like cheese since the 1960s and 1980s, respectively.

The Danish and German versions are made with pasteurized cow’s milk, not sheep’s or goat’s milk, as it is in Greece.

And since the Feta PDO defines the cheese both in terms of origin, ingredients, and production method, the Danes and Germans can no longer call their feta-like cheese by the coveted F word.

In 2005, the European Court of Justice sided with Greece in a case against Denmark and Germany, agreeing that only Greece has the right to call its product Feta, and reaffirming that Feta can only be made with unpasteurized sheep’s milk, or a mixture of both sheep’s and up to 30% goat’s milk, and that is must be curdled with rennet and brined.

While the Danes started referring to their feta-like cheese as white cheese or salad cubes in the supermarket, Greece has accused the Danes of cheekily selling their cow’s milk version abroad as Feta, earning Denmark some official chastising by the EU.

The fight continues, and in 2020 Greece authorized the EU to begin legal proceedings against Denmark over the issue, specifically for violating PDO regulations.

Can You Blame Greece for Being Fetta Up?

Based on my research at the time of writing, the Feta wars are unresolved. But for now…here’s hoping things will get Feta.