2011 July: FABULOUS FETA

Aged a minimum of three months, feta is a brind curd cheese that’s renowned for its flavor and versatility. An all-star performer in Greek cuisine, the product crosses over nicely into the Italian realm. In fact, feta offers operators a variety of options when used on pizza or in salads, pasta dishes or sandwiches.

In Europe, feta is made with sheep’s milk (or a mixture that includes up to 30 percent goat’s milk). Outside of Europe, however, cow’s milk is commonly used.

Based on variables such as the milk source, feta’s flavor profile can range from mild to sharp. Typically, it is characterized by a tangy, salty taste and is best served crumbled.

While it likely would not find a spot in the lineup of a four-cheese pizza, feta is the perfect choice for use on a “Greek Pizza” alongside toppings such as kalamata olives, banana peppers, fresh tomatoes and red onions.

In February 2010, California Pizza Kitchen found an interesting use for the ingredient when it launched a small plates menu. One of the offerings, the “Mediterranean Plate,” featured a Greek salad along with feta and hummus.

“We are offering the innovative and bold flavors we are known for, but in smaller portions,” CPK founder Rick Rosenfield said at the time the product was released.

John Amodeo, owner of Giovanni’s Coal Fire Pizza in Sunrise, Florida, has had tremendous success with a gourmet specialty pizza he put out three months ago. In fact, he says, the dish is about to make his permanent menu.

“Not only are we using feta, but its creativity is way up there,” Amodeo says. “Creatively, we are able to come up with lots of different uses for it.”
Amodeo began offering a Mediterranean Pizza as a special item, with the intent of making it available to his customers for a limited time. Three months later, he says it sells so well that he hasn’t been able to change out the special.

“It’s one of our best sellers,” he says.

The pizza features feta, roasted garlic, hummus, chopped tomatoes, olives and a finishing drizzle of olive oil. It is baked in the restaurant’s coal oven, and Amodeo says it carries a decent food cost.

“It’s a typical pizza in terms of food cost,” he says. “It’s very comparable to other specialty pizzas. But it’s a big, big seller.”

Amodeo advertised the pizza on table tents, a move he credits with helping encourage customers to try it.

“It’s a delicious pizza,” he says. “On the gourmet side of our menu, we try to infuse other cultures. This fits nicely into that strategy.”

Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.

<<< Greek Pizza

½ pound fresh spinach, washed
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Salt, to taste
1 14-inch pizza shell
¼ cup sliced, pitted green olives
¼ cup sliced, pitted black olives
¼ pound feta cheese, crumbled Put water and spinach in a large sauté pan and cook over medium-high heat, covered, until spinach wilts. Drain excess from pan. With cover off, cook and stir spinach 2 minutes to evaporate moisture.

Add olive oil, garlic, onion and pepper to spinach. Cook and stir over medium heat for 4 minutes. Salt, to taste. Cool before using.

Spread spinach mixture evenly over pizza crust, leaving a small crust border. Sprinkle olives evenly over spinach and then sprinkle the feta cheese evenly over top. Bake.