Not much is known about the actual history of cheese making. In Homer’s “Odyssey”, the one-eyed Cyclops, Polyphemus, was the first to produce feta cheese, albeit, by accident. Homer tells us that Polyphemus collected milk from his sheep in bags made from lambskin. One day, Polyphemus noticed that the milk had curdled and had become solid.
As Ulysses narrates in book nine of Homer’s “Odyssey”: “We soon reached his cave, but he was out shepherding, so we went inside and took stock of all that we could see. His cheese-racks were loaded with cheeses, and he had more lambs and kids than his pens could hold. They were kept in separate flocks; first there were the hoggets, then the oldest of the younger lambs and lastly the very young ones all kept apart from one another; as for his dairy, all the vessels, bowls, and milk pails into which he milked, were swimming with whey. When they saw all this, my men begged me to let them first steal some cheeses, and make off with them to the ship; they would then return, drive down the lambs and kids, put them on board and sail away with them… We lit a fire, offered some of the cheeses in sacrifice, ate others of them, and then sat waiting till the Cyclops should come in with his sheep… Meanwhile he drove all the ewes inside, as well as the she-goats that he was going to milk, leaving the males, both rams and he-goats, outside in the yards…When he had so done he sat down and milked his ewes and goats, all in due course, and then let each of them have her own young. He curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers, but the other half he poured into bowls that he might drink it for his supper…”
Myth or not, there are scientific references stating that feta cheese has been around since the time of Homer.
Cheese was first recorded in Byzantine times with the name prosphatos, meaning fresh. Ancient Greeks used the technique of storing what was produced from curdled milk in brine and simply called it “cheese”. It was first called feta by the Greeks in the 17th century, meaning “slice”, when the cheese was sliced up to be put in barrels of brine for storage, or cut into thin slices before serving on a plate.
Today, feta is the most popular cheese in Greece and much associated with the traditional Greek diet. It is the most widely exported Greek product. It is rare to have feta cheese missing from any Greek dinner table.