There’s nothing wrong with serving feta on a cheese plate, but if you have a few minutes to spare, I suggest transforming it into the traditional Greek dip tyrosalata. It’s practically effortless: Just process the cheese with extra-virgin olive oil until it turns smooth, and then season it with additions such as lemon juice, garlic, and fresh herbs. As part of a meze spread (small plates served with drinks) with crudités or pita, the creamy, milky, salty dip is a real standout.
Feta varies widely depending on the type of milk it is made from—cow’s, sheep’s, goat’s, or some combination thereof. I defaulted to our favorite high-quality cheese made from sheep’s milk. Its richness and distinct tang are not only authentic (most Greek fetas are made from sheep’s milk) but also the test kitchen’s preferred feta profile.
But something strange happened when I buzzed together my first batch. The consistency was oddly loose—more like yogurt than dip—even though I’d added nothing more to the feta than a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice. Stranger still, the dip continued to thin as it sat at room temperature.
But here’s the most surprising part of the story: The sheep’s milk itself was to blame for the dip’s drippy consistency, and the result was actually better—thicker and more stable—when I made it with cow’s-milk feta. That’s because sheep milk fat has a lower melting point than cow milk fat, so cheese made with sheep’s milk softens at a lower temperature than cheese made with cow’s milk. In the test kitchen, which runs a little warm, using cow’s‑milk feta was the only way to guarantee a consistently thick texture.
Of course, I assumed that cow’s-milk feta would lack character and richness, but I needn’t have worried. The subtleties of the sheep’s-milk cheese were mostly obscured by the other flavors in the dip (for more, see “Barnyard Battle: Cow versus Sheep”).
The only drawback was that the cow’s‑milk cheese actually made the dip a little too stiff, not to mention assertively salty (cow’s‑milk fetas tend to be saltier). Whipping in a few tablespoons of milk loosened its consistency enough that it could be swiped up with a piece of soft pita. And as for taming the salinity, I did what we often do with salty ingredients such as anchovies and capers: I rinsed it, which tempered the saltiness just enough.
With the base of the dip settled, I worked in some fresh oregano as well as a hint of minced garlic that I’d soaked in lemon juice to take the edge off its bite. It was a very traditional take.
But the beauty of this dip—other than how easy it is to make—is that the tangy, milky-rich base takes well to lots of different flavors. It was just as easy to give the dip a smoky profile by adding roasted red peppers, smoked paprika, and a touch of cayenne as it was to pack it with grassy dill and parsley. With results this good, why wait to include this dip in a meze spread? I’ll be whipping it up for a snack any old time.