On the cheeseboard they both look white, slightly chalky and firm. Two cheese varieties, from Italy and Greece respectively: Quartirolo and Feta.
Only the most inattentive eye and palate could possibly confuse them. The name of the former would appear to derive from “quartirola”, meaning the grass that grows after the third cut, at the end of the summer that is, when the cows are taken down into the valley. The term "Feta" literally means slice and refers to the way in which the curds are cut.
What's the Difference Between Feta and Quartirolo?
PDO Quartirolo Lombardo is shaped like a rectangular brick and weighs about three kilos. It has a fine rind and a pinkish colour. It has a slightly lumpy texture and as it gradually ages, it becomes soft and firm.
PDO Feta is firm and cube-shaped with little irregular eyes, uniformly white in colour and devoid of rind.
In the milk lies their essential difference. Quartirolo is made exclusively from cow's milk, sourced from dairies in Lombardy.
Feta, on the other hand, is made from ewe's milk and rennet. It often contains a percentage of goat's milk, but never any more than 30%. It is produced throughout Greece.
Salt and fats
Feta is saltier and fattier. Its salt content is 2.20 grams per 100 grams, higher than that of Quartirolo. Its fat content is equivalent to 40%. That of Quartirolo, however, is about 30%.
The ageing process of Quartirolo enables a diversification of this cheese variety, by offering a fresh product for immediate consumption (5 days) and a more intensely flavoured one of 30 days with a pinkish rind which sets it aside from its younger brother.
Feta has no rind and is "aged" in brine with a concentration of salt that never exceeds 3%. The final ageing process takes place at a temperature of 2-4° C and a relative humidity of at least 85%, up to an overall ageing period of at least 2 months.
When ready to be marketed, Quartirolo Lombardo is “presented” with a personalized packaging indicating its Protected Destination of Origin seal.
Feta is sold and stored in a vacuum pack with some of its brine. Here too, European Union recognition is mandatory.
Differences in taste
When fresh, these two cheese varieties are similar in taste but Feta changes very little with the passage of time while Quartirolo acquires intensity and nuances of flavour as it ages.
The texture of Quartirolo is crumbly and creamy but, above all, it takes on fairly intense aromatic notes. The ageing of fresh Quartirolo confers greater body and reduces its acidity, making it an excellent cheese for eating on its own. On the palate, it regales grassy hints of straw and underlying tones of hazelnut.
Feta is slightly more acidulous and savoury with a note of pungency not perceivable in Quartirolo. A high quality Feta should have an aroma of ewe's milk, with hints of butter and yoghurt. It ends on a spicy note recalling pepper and ginger with a pinch of sweetness. In the same way as Quartirolo it is sold either fresh or mature. Traditionally, Feta is available in the "soft" and "firm" varieties.
How to Enjoy Them at Their Best?
As well as in salads, Feta is excellent when coated in breadcrumbs and fried, grilled or used as an ingredient for stuffing phyllo pastry rolls. Try the delicious pairing of water melon dressed with Feta. It can be turned into a lavish salad if you add sliced rounds of red onion and mint (torn by hand, not cut) to complete the dish.
Quartirolo can be enjoyed at its best served with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of pepper. It teams up perfectly with walnuts, apples, grapes and honey. When fresh, it can be enjoyed with salads and cold dishes, while the more mature product makes an excellent ingredient for risottos, maccheroni and Italian-style omelettes (frittata).