One of the many advantages of working around so many professionals at Nino’s is learning more about their specialties. This includes our butchers, who can bone out a chicken in seconds; our produce buyers, who know when everything is in season; our artisan bakers who create wheaten masterpieces and our floral designers who can rattle off the names of all of their flowers and plants and tell you something about each one of them.
Likewise, Anna Doci, our resident cheese expert at Troy is a treasure trove of information and enjoys sharing her expertise with Nino’s customers who are looking for just the right cheese for a new recipe, to enjoy with wine, or to just outright enjoy all by itself.
I caught up with Anna recently as she was discussing the various types of feta cheese with a customer who had a salad recipe she was going to make. She’d heard that there are different types, so she sought out Anna for her recommendations. Once again, I found myself in the right place at just the right time at Nino’s, and as a result, I learned something more about a cheese I’ve cooked with my whole life.
Afterwards, I promised myself I’d spend a moment to soak in some of what she had to say about what turned out to be one of her favorite cheeses.
“I grew up in Albania, but as a family, we traveled all over Eastern Europe, so as a young girl, I was exposed to many foods from all over that region. I especially loved all the varieties of figs, which also go with cheese.”
So, how did Anna come to be such a cheese expert?
Well, besides knowing quite a bit already about one of Anna’s favorite cheeses, feta, she additionally learned more about other cheeses by tasting, asking questions and studying.
Surprisingly, one of the things she most loves about cheese is its aroma. She says it tells you a lot about a cheese, ranging from which milk was used to how it was made and how long it may have been aged.
Since I already knew that feta is one of Anna’s favorite cheeses, I asked her to show me a couple of her other favorites and tell me a bit about each of them.
“First of all,” Anna began, “we have feta from four different countries in our store. Each one is slightly different from the other. We have feta from (of course) Greece, where it all began, to France and Bulgaria, and we have domestic feta from the United States.”
What then I asked her advice on which feta to buy, she answered with the following:
“First, I ask them what are they going to use it for? A salad? Spinach pie? Stuffing? A spread? Then I ask them if they have a budget because we have feta cheeses at different prices. Myself, I love Greek feta, so I suppose I’m biased, but each feta has its own following, so I just try to tell them something about what each Feta is like and then I let them make their own choices,” she confessed.
Since I’m not a feta expert, I asked Anna to give me a brief overview of the feta cheeses we carry, so I could learn a little something more. Below are her notes on each:
Made from both sheep’s and goat’s milk, it crumbles well, is not overly salty and has a medium-fine grainy texture. Ours is 100% natural and handmade and has a fresh but slightly nutty flavor. It’s Anna’s top recommendation for Greek salad and spinach pie, and she often recommends it be enjoyed with an Italian red wine from Piemonte or a Barbaresco in particular.
Our French feta is also a handmade cheese made from sheep’s milk alone, and it’s also slightly nutty but less salty than Greek and has a softer texture. She often recommends enjoying it with a Port Wine.
Nino’s Bulgarian feta, made from sheep’s milk, is the softest, smoothest feta we carry. Of the two kinds we have, our double-cream feta has a spreadable consistency yet can still be crumbled.
While every feta has its fans, Anna finds that customers purchase our domestic feta for salads, pizza toppings and general recipes in which feta is only one of many prominent ingredients. We carry it in regular, low-fat and flavored with tomato or basil.
So, what recipes does Anna use her Greek feta in?
“I make my own dough, which I roll VERY thin, sprinkle it with a spinach mixture that I make and then add lots of crumbled feta. I roll it up into a big log, bake it and cut it into thick slices. It’s one of my family favorites.”
Of course, loving cheese, I had to know what other cheeses Anna might have stashed in her home refrigerator right now.
Laughing yet almost embarrassed to admit it, she had to think for a moment. She then looked skyward, and with a very thoughtful expression, brow furled and the mental inventory complete, this is what Anna divulged was in her fridge that day:
“Well, I have, of course, feta,” she said laughing. “I also have some Parmesan-Reggiano, Taleggio, Fontina…Kasseri, and my son loves Gorgonzola, so I have to have that!”
I have to admit, Anna’s love for cheese is infectious.
Whether you’re looking for feta cheese or another cheese for your enjoyment, stop by our Troy location, meet Anna and try something new she might recommend. It’s always a delicious education.
Looking for some recipes that use one of Anna’s favorite cheeses? Here are some feta-inspired links on Nino’s website.