Most everyone loves cheese, so much so that it’s one of the most popular dairy products in America. There’s a lot of good reasons for this love affair with cheese: it’s a good source of calcium and other nutrients, it goes well in or on other foods, and it’s delicious.
But, not all cheeses are made the same way. There are lots of things that affect a cheese’s flavor, texture,
Feta cheese hails from Greece and is incredibly popular there. Because of its Mediterranean origins, it’s usually thought of as pairing well with Mediterranean dishes, vegetables and fruits. Only cheese made in specific regions in Greece can be called feta, and it has to be produced a certain way to be considered true feta cheese.
Traditionally, it’s made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, or some combination of the two. Depending on what it’s made from and where it’s produced, the flavor and texture differences can vary wildly from creamy and soft to dry and intense. It tends to have a sharp and tangy taste when made from sheep’s milk, but it’s milder when it’s made from goat’s milk. It’s a soft, crumbly cheese that’s great for putting on or in things, but not great for melting. It’s also considered a good “eating cheese”, which means it’s good on its own, or with wine or fruit.
Overall, feta cheese is quite good for you. It has around 4.2 grams of saturated fat and 25 mg of cholesterol per ounce. In comparison to provolone, it has less saturated fat, but more cholesterol. So in terms of fat content, there’s very little in feta, but there’s a good deal of cholesterol in it.
There are lots of vitamins and nutrients in feta cheese. It’s got more calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins than other cheeses do. This is because sheep and goat milk contain more calcium and phosphorus than cow’s milk. In addition to calcium and phosphorus, there’s a whole list of other vitamins and minerals in feta including: vitamins A and K, magnesium, iron, folate and pantothenic acid.
Another benefit of feta made from sheep or goat’s milk is probiotics, which boost gut and digestive system health. Probiotics are live bacteria that protect your digestive system against harmful bacteria, such as e.coli. That’s definitely not a health benefit that you can get from eating overly-processed, individually wrapped cheese by-product slices!
Feta cheese can be made either from pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. When it’s made from pasteurized milk (see the brand list here), there are few health concerns to be had. But, the same cannot be said of cheese made from unpasteurized milk. One of the dangers that
Feta is brined, rather than dry-aged. This results in a cheese that’s got a higher sodium content than other cheeses. It contains around 312 mg of sodium per ounce. It’s probably not suitable for a low-sodium diet, and you may want to watch your sodium intake for the rest of the day after having eaten it. And, it contains more lactic acid than other cheeses, which could be bad news for even those who are mildly lactose intolerant.
Provolone is an Italian cheese that’s semi-hard. It has a slightly grainy texture and tends to be quite firm. But contrary to that description, it’s a smooth cheese. In terms of flavor, it’s a little tangy, buttery and smoky.
In Italy, there are two types of Provolone: Dolce and Piccante. Dolce is made from cow’s milk and only aged for 2-3 months. Piccante is made from either goat or sheep’s milk and then aged from 3 months to a year. Piccante provolone has a drier texture, more pungent aroma and is sharper in flavor than Dolce. Provolone made in America closely resembles Dolce provolone. As with nearly any type of aged cheese, the amount of time it’s aged effects its flavor profile. Provolone aged for a shorter time will be creamy and sweet, whereas longer aging results in a drier texture and sharper flavor.
If you’re American and you’re a fan of sandwiches, you’re probably familiar with provolone. It became widely popular in the U.S. once it began being used on Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. It compliments the flavors of most sandwiches and subs, and melts nicely.
Provolone is probably better for you than some other types of cheeses. It has around 4.8 grams of saturated fat and 20 mg cholesterol per ounce. In comparison to feta, it has a slightly higher saturated fat content, and a slightly lower cholesterol content. But, it lacks a lot of feta’s other beneficial nutrients. It contains far fewer vitamins and nutrients than feta, and there are no probiotics in it. But, there are also not as many health risks associated with it. For instance, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems can eat provolone without worrying about potentially life-threatening bacteria.
Which is better?
It’s pretty obvious that these are both tasty cheese varieties. But which one is better? That really depends on which variety you choose, and how you plan to eat it.
If you’re looking for “eating cheese”- something to eat alone, or with wine or fruit- and trying to choose between feta and American-made provolone, feta is probably your best bet. But, if you’re trying to choose between feta and Piccante provolone, the choices are more evenly matched and it becomes a decision based on personal taste.
If you’re looking for something that’s going to melt beautifully on your sandwich, provolone is the better bet. If you’re looking for something to add to a salad, feta is probably your best choice. The best way to make the decision is to buy some of both
Not that you needed an excuse to buy and eat cheese, but if you did, that’s one heck of an excuse!
Read Parmesan vs Cheddar here.