Bulgarian White Cheese Vs. Feta

Feta and sirene style white cheeses have been produced across the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean for thousands of years.

Bulgarian White Cheese Vs. Feta

However, feta has risen to international fame as a Greek product. The crumbly, salty, tangy cheese has become iconic in Greek salads and various Mediterranean dishes globally.

What is Feta Cheese?

Feta is the most famous and legally protected variety of brined curd white cheese in the world. Traditional feta cheese has the following key characteristics:

  • Made from sheep’s milk or a mix of 70% sheep and 30% goat milk. No more than 30% goat milk is allowed.
  • Aged for minimum 2 months in brine solution. The brine helps preserve the cheese while also infusing flavor and texture qualities.
  • Has a crumbly texture that is creamy when fresh but becomes firmer and easier to grate/flake off as it ages.
  • Tangy, salty, and often lemon-like acidic flavor that is quite strong.

Under EU law since 2002, only feta meeting above criteria and made specifically in Greece can legally use the name “feta” for commercial sale.

Prior to gaining PDO status, cheese branded as feta was produced in many countries like Denmark, Germany, and the USA using cow's milk or different ratios of milks. However, Greece argued only Greek feta cheese made using traditional regional methods deserved to be called “feta.” We’ll explore this dispute more later on.

First, let’s look at the similar style of cheese from neighboring Bulgaria that also has a long heritage yet lacks the international fame (or legal protection) of feta - sirene.

What is Bulgarian White Cheese (Sirene)?

Sirene (Π‘ΠΈΡ€Π΅Π½Π΅) translates to simply “cheese” in Bulgarian, referring to a traditional Balkan brined white cheese with the following characteristics:

  • Made from sheep, goat, cow or buffalo milk or combinations thereof. No legal regulations on ingredients.
  • Less strictly controlled aging time from several weeks up to 12 months depending on variety.
  • Creamy, sliceable texture when fresh. Ages firmer.
  • Tangy, salty, and lemony flavor, though usually less intensely flavored than feta.

While sirene translates as “cheese,” it is specifically the white, brined cheese that Bulgaria is known for. With feta being the famous Greek equivalent, sirene is sometimes called “Bulgarian feta” in English for simplicity.

However, Bulgaria is a EU member and therefore legally cannot label its cheese as feta. Most packaging simply lists it as “white cheese” or may specify cow/sheep/goat milk. Few Bulgarians would call it feta either, instead recognizing sirene as a distinct, superior product in its own right.

So while the basic cheese making process is similar, what differences matter between these white cheeses of Greece and Bulgaria?

6 Key Differences Between Feta and Sirene

Feta and sirene do have more similarities than differences. But dig deeper into ingredients, texture, flavor, and other factors - some subtle, some more distinct contrasts emerge between the iconic Greek cheese and its lesser known Bulgarian counterpart.

Legally Protected Name

Feta has PDO status restrictively tying it to Greece. Sirene does not, meaning the name carries no guarantee of origin.

  • Feta can only legally be called “feta” if produced in specific Greek regions under specific conditions.
  • Sirene is used as a generic name for similar brined white cheese from Bulgaria/Balkans with no production restrictions.

This lack of regulation allows more variation between sirene cheeses compared to traditional feta’s expectations.

Source of Milk

Sirene allows any combination of cow, goat, buffalo or sheep milk. Feta is made from sheep or sheep/goat mix.

  • The EU specifies feta must be made from 70% sheep milk and 30% or less goat milk. This ensures a rich, fatty flavor from the higher sheep milk content.
  • Sirene has no legal guidelines dictating which milks are used or at what ratios. Cow milk sirene is very common and cheaper, while some dairies focus on pure sheep milk.

The milk chosen brings noticeable flavor and texture variation between sirene cheeses.

Texture

Feta is crumblier while sirene tends to be creamier and spreadable when fresh.

  • Feta’s crumbly texture means it breaks down easily. This makes feta perfect for crumbling over Greek salads or pasta dishes.
  • Sirene is typically sliced and cubed rather than crumbled. When very fresh, it can even be spread like cream cheese. The creaminess declines with age.

The differing textures mean they work better for different culinary uses.

Flavor Intensity

Feta is usually more intensely salty and tangy compared to milder sirene.

  • The EU feta specifications and traditional Greek methods create a robust, lemon-like acidic flavor that packs a salty punch.
  • Sirene cheeses can certainly be tangy and salty too. But on average, they tend to be milder with notes of sour cream or butter.

Of course, specific varieties of sirene can equal feta for intensity while some fetas are more muted. But on the whole, feta sets the bar for a mouth-puckeringly tart and salty experience!

Aging Duration

Sirene has a less strictly controlled aging duration compared to feta’s minimum 2 months.

  • Feta must be aged a minimum 2 months under EU law. Many are aged longer for sharper flavor.
  • Sirene can be aged as little as a few weeks up to 12 months depending on variety. No legal minimum duration.

The longer brined aging plays a major role in developing feta’s extra tang and firm texture compared to fresher sirene.

Global Fame

Feta is far more well known globally as a cheese style, while sirene remains niche outside eastern Europe.

  • Immigration spread feta’s popularity. Greek migrants brought their iconic cheese to countries like Australia and the USA.
  • Feta grew into a global symbol of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. Sirene stayed regional.
  • The EU’s legal protection reinforces feta’s branding as Greece’s exclusive cheese. Sirene has no such status.

Feta’s global success story gives it international brand recognition sirene can’t match. For now, sirene remains beloved in Bulgaria but obscure worldwide!

So while the EU or a Bulgarian might argue sirene to be a distinct style from legally protected feta, both cheeses ultimately belong to a shared lineage of Balkan white brined cheeses with ancient roots.

Why then did feta become globally synonymous with Greece while sirene hasn’t broken out abroad? And why did feta need legal protection at all?

Key Takeaway: Despite similar cheese making methods, regulations and marketing played a key role in feta gaining such fame that sirene is yet to match.

Why Greek Feta Cheese Gained Protected Status

Brined white cheese existed across the Balkans and Mediterranean for millennia before Greece or Bulgaria were even countries! So how did feta become so famous that Greece argued only its cheese deserved the name?

It wasn’t an issue until feta grew into a global success. Immigrants brought production methods abroad and soon many countries were making variations branded as feta. With feta rapidly becoming symbolic of Greece itself, they moved to cement their ownership over the cheese.

The history reveals why Greece fought hard to gain feta’s PDO status:

  • 800 BC: Earliest recorded mention of feta-like cheese production in Ancient Greek myths. However, similar brined white cheeses likely already existed across region.
  • 17th Century AD: Oldest known documented use of the word feta emerges in reference to slicing the cheese. Possibly derived from Italian “fetta” meaning slice or slice of food.
  • 19th Century AD: Name feta becomes widespread term for the white cheese produced across Greece.
  • 20th Century AD: Migration sees Greeks take feta recipe abroad, establishing significant production in Australia, USA etc, raising international awareness.
  • 1990s-2002 AD: As feta sales boom, nations like Denmark begin industrial feta production using cow’s milk instead of sheep/goat. Greece pushes for protected status.
  • 2002 AD: EU grants feta PDO status to Greece after years of lobbying and lawsuits to prevent other nations using the name. Now legally exclusive to Greece.

Initially feta grew famous organically through immigration spread over a century. But major dairy players in non-Mediterranean countries began taking advantage of the trend towards Mediterranean cuisine by selling “feta” that didn’t fit the original style.

Seeing this foreign-made feta without the terrior of Greek milk or methods as damaging to their signature cuisine, Greece aggressively campaigned to claim feta as exclusively Greek forevermore!

Key Takeaway: Global fame drew copycats which lead Greece to zealously defend feta's origin despite no conclusive evidence of it originating solely from Greece.

Yet not everyone was pleased with this monopoly over a cheese style stretched across numerous Balkan cultures...

Why Feta’s PDO Status Was Controversial

While most EU nations complied with feta’s 2002 designation ruling without fuss, the same protection wasn’t offered to similar brined white cheeses of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia etc that had also been locally produced for centuries.

Opposing Arguments:

For Greece’s position

  • Feta only carries expectations of flavor, quality and connection to Greece. Widely known as Greek cheese.
  • Loss of distinction from mediocre foreign imitations damages culinary heritage.
  • Similar brined Balkan cheeses are less famous abroad so not threatened by generic feta use.

Against Greece’s monopoly

  • Feta is actually only attested in Greece since 17th Century. Much younger tradition than wider Balkan white cheese.
  • Ancient Greeks documented a common regional cheese style they imported. Not inventing uniquely Greek cheese.
  • Taking generic product name unfairly monopolizes and excludes other Balkan nations with claim to style.

Essentially:

  • Is feta an ancient tradition that's uniquely Greek? Or...
  • A notable but not fully original Greek continuity of wider historic Balkan style?

As with all disputes over ownership of cultural heritage, there are reasonable arguments on both sides with no definitive right answer.

Nevertheless, the EU favored Greece - so feta it remains!

Yet the controversy doesn’t seem to have dented sirene’s popularity in Bulgaria, where it remains intrinsically tied to food culture and national pride:

Sirene Cheese Importance in Bulgaria

Sirene may lack feta’s global fame, but it is deeply integral to Bulgarian cuisine and identity:

  • Features in signature national dishes like Shopska salad (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and sirene).
  • Often eaten daily for breakfast or sandwiches paired with tomatoes, eggs etc.
  • Part of food tradition tied to land and people over generations rather than product innovation.
  • Symbol of pride in Bulgaria’s rich agricultural offerings compared to international trends that are new to scene.
  • Core component of cultural heritage defying globalized homogenization to mass market tastes.

In essence, sirene cheese matters to Bulgaria no less than feta does to Greece. Even if sirene doesn’t boast worldwide fame and legal protection, Bulgarians continue celebrating their signature “white cheese” as an immutable aspect of national identity.

This pride ensures the traditions live on despite feta conquering the global stage!

Type of CheeseCountry/RegionMain IngredientsTextureFlavor Notes
FetaGreece onlySheep milk or sheep/goat mixCrumblierTangy and salty
SireneBulgaria / BalkansCow or sheep milk blendsCreamy, spreadableMild tang with lemony notes

FAQs

Can feta and sirene be used interchangeably in recipes?

Mostly, yes. Due to their similarities in being white, brined and tangy cheeses, you can generally substitute one for the other in cooking and food presentation. However, differences in intensity, saltiness, crumbliness and so on may change the flavor/texture profile.

Does authentic feta cheese contain cow’s milk too?

No. Under EU law, authentic Greek feta cheese is made from either pure sheep’s milk or a mixture using 70% sheep and up to 30% goat milk. Even in Greece, cow’s milk feta is considered inauthentic. However, in countries outside the EU like the USA cow milk ‘feta’ is common but doesn't meet Greek legal definitions.

Why can some feta be labeled from France or Denmark if it's Greek?

It can't. Under protected status rules, feta cheese can only display the label “feta” if actually produced in Greece. Feta-styles made elsewhere must use other names like “white cheese”. Some outside the EU ignore the rules, however.

Is Bulgarian sirene cheaper or more expensive than Greek feta?

Generally, Bulgarian sirene is cheaper to purchase compared to Greek feta. This is because production in Bulgaria isn't limited by legal protections on ingredients, methods or locations like with feta, allowing more producers to make sirene that drives market competition.

When was feta cheese invented?

There is no clear record. White brined cheeses very likely existed over the entire Balkans and Mediterranean for millennia pre-dating modern ethnic groups and countries. Greeks cite myths referencing cheese from ~800 BC while mentions of “feta” itself only appear around the last 400 years with wider spread in 19th and 20th century.

Conclusion

Debates of origin aside, the historic development of white brined cheeses across the Balkans gifted us two distinct takes on a beloved food tradition:

The famed Greek “Feta” - exported and internationally popularized to become symbolic of Greece. Secured exclusive ownership and use of the name feta through stringent EU protected status rulings.

The humble ‘’Sirene” of Bulgaria – meaning simply “cheese” in Bulgarian. Obscure globally but no less integral a tradition tied intrinsically to national cuisine and culture.

Cheese Lover Chloe πŸ§€
Cheese Lover Chloe πŸ§€

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!