Sirene (Bulgarian Feta)
Feta might be one of Greece's culinary claims to fame, but that Mediterranean nation is the only one in Europe with a longstanding tradition of brined cheese-making. And while true Greek Feta is now a certified Grecian cheese under a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), many countries throughout the Baltic make similar feta style cheeses, often referred to as some translation of "white cheese" or, in Bulgaria, Sirene.
It makes sense that this type of cheese evolved throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. In these sweltering climes, overly rapid acceleration of mold growth, spoilage, and surface cracking are highly problematic to the production of edible cheese. Brining has long represented a solution to the problem, inhibiting bacterial growth by storing the cheese in an acidified saltwater solution. White brined cheeses, which grow salty from months in their bath, are found from Egypt to Greece to Turkey and beyond.
Since Bulgarian sirene doesn't fall under the PDO for Feta, it's not subject to the same strict production rules, and it can vary considerably from producer to producer. While it was historically produced mostly using sheep's milk, today it's often made from a mix of cow's, sheep's, and goat's milks.
In the United States, where PDO name regulations do not apply, it's often sold under the name "Bulgarian Feta." The version in this photo is imported to the United States by Castella, and is produced entirely with sheep's milk.
Sirene has a pronounced tart, salty flavor. It is firm, crumbly and chalk-white.
Sirene is mostly used in cooking: crumbled into a shopska salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, rolled into a banitsa pastry, or stuffed into a red pepper that's then fried. But it can also make a great table cheese; sprinkle it with paprika and olive oil, or serve it alongside rosé.