The fate of Feta

Feta-I loved it the first time I tasted it. White, salty, and a taste unlike anything I could describe. It became part of my pantheon of cheeses. I discovered it was healthier than a lot of other cheeses, too. Lower fat.

When I moved to Sunnyvale, I found a local deli (Attari) that sold a ethnic type of feta that put the supermarket Athenos brand of feta to shame. This deli feta was so much more powerful, the difference was like the difference between american cheese and sharp cheddar. Wow! I found out that the feta I was buying (because it was the cheapest of the three the deli sold) was BULGARIAN feta.

Attari sold Greek, French and Bulgarian Feta. I tried them all, and the Bulgarian remained my favorite. Of course, two years ago I moved to North Central Los Angeles. There is an even bigger ethnic market here. It’s big enough to be a supermarket chain: Jon’s. The Eastern meditterian population here is such that can maintain a chain like that. Even the gas station snack counters have olives, feta, and Halvah for sale. These folks know feta.

Now, at the deli counter at Jon’s supermarket, they have more than Greek, French and Bulgarian feta. They have Roumanian, and I think 2 other varieties too. What a selection! I’ve been sticking to my Bulgarian, but I thought maybe the others might have merit.

I bought a half-pound of the Greek once, but my previous opinion was confirmed. It was chalkier, drier, and certainly not as powerful a flavor as the Bulgarian. I didn’t even finish the half pound.

With that disappointment in mind, I thought I would find out more before I wasted money on the other types of feta. I looked up feta on the internet to find out what some other cheese-lover might have to say about feta from different regions.

This is the first thing I found. It’s about feta, written by Bulgarians. Naturally, they agree with my assessment about the deliciousness of their cheese.

But this didn’t tell me about the other varieties of feta. I looked further and was surprised to find that feta was a source of international conflict.
Now, this is interesting. The French, the Danes and the Germans are all arguing with Greece about who gets to make feta. Or at least who gets to call it feta. Where is Bulgaria, the winner of my taste test, in this debate?

Exactly nowhere. Bulgaria is not part of the European Union. Nor is Roumania, one of the feta varieties I have not tried yet. They have no place at the table for this debate.

Now, if I were to give my two cents to the cheese beaurocrats at the EU, I would say that it would be nice to know where the feta originates. The taste is completely different, coming for different palces. I haven’t tried German or Danish feta, but I am sure they taste different. I’d like to know where my feta comes from, since it affects the taste. Naturally, you shouldn’t tell those countries that they can’t make feta at all (that seems to be what Greece wants to say). But if their feta is not as good as the others, then it will naturally not do so well as the other varieties. Free market will dictate the winner.

Except there is a problem. Free market isn’t the market we are using over there. The purveyors of the tastiest cheese are excluded. They aren’t part of the EU. They were part of the Eastern Block, with a history of a socialist market.

Now, I’ll tell you. I worry about the intellectual property rights of the former communist countries. They do not have a history of protecting the ideas of geniuses who come up with them. I’ve seen this go to work in Russia when I lived there.

I knew this guy in the town I lived in. He was a geologist. There were a lot of geologists in that town, because the town had a diamond mine. This geologist had a breakthrough in how to extract diamonds from the ore. He found this solution that would extract (according to him) 90% more diamonds than current methods. Holy Crap! That’s a lot more diamonds. Sounds too good to be true. But he and his geologist buddies had the proof.

They took their new method to Mother Russia, the owner of the diamond mine. Mother Russia said she couldn’t be bothered to change everything now. Don’t rock the boat; things were going along fine.
Now, even if Mother Russia approved of their genius idea, you have to realize, this giant leap in production would not have resulted in additional money for the geologists. No extra bonus to buy diamonds for their mothers and wives. Just maybe a commendation at the yearly review.

So the geologists were stifled. But this idea was too good to just leave alone. They wanted to see it implemented. They called Debeers. Debeers took a little more notice than Mother Russia did. And actually, the geologists had a chance to make some money on the deal if they took it elsewhere. Except they were relying on the lawyers that Debeers brought with them. There were not any copyright or patents lawyers in the town. Or anywhere in Russia, as far as I know.

Now, I don’t know the end of the story because I left Russia and lost track of this geologist. But this story, along with a lot of other things I saw and experienced in Russia, made me realize how foriegn copyright and intellectual property rights were to this country.

I worry about the former communist countries. I think they need to get on the bandwagon with selling ideas.

And this whole feta thing brings that up again. Those Bulgarians have the best way of making this cheese, but the rest of the world is missing out. Free the feta!

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