Baked Feta Cheese with Olives and Lemon is an easy baked cheese appetizer that shows off the spectacular sun drenched flavors of the Mediterranean. Serve it with some toasted bread and watch it disappear!
baked feta cheese is an unexpectedly delicious appetizer
I have a feeling once you try this unusual baked cheese appetizer you’ll return to it again and again. You’ll get lots of appreciation from your friends, that’s for sure, and nobody will be expecting it. When it’s baked, the feta takes on an entirely different personality ~ the cheese not only gets warm, it softens and becomes less crumbly, more spreadable. And if you haven’t tried imported sheep’s milk feta, you’re in for a treat, the flavor is so much better.
This baked feta isn’t non-caloric, but it tastes heavenly, and those are relatively healthy calories from lower fat sheep’s milk cheese and extra virgin olive oil.
baking transforms the 3 main ingredients in magical ways
- the cheese, as I said above, mellows and softens. Note, it doesn’t actually become spreadable like a cream cheese, but it does soften.
- the olives undergo a similar transformation to the cheese, and they become soft and juicy. They’re so good you can serve them all by themselves as a super easy appetizer, see my roasted olives recipe for details.
- even the lemons become pliable and release their juice into the warm olive oil ‘sauce’.
what is feta cheese?
- Feta is a Greek cheese made with sheep’s milk, or sheep’s milk and goat’s milk.
- Feta is made in blocks, and stored in brine. Its texture is crumbly and its flavor is sharp and salty.
- Legally, feta cheese is only made in certain areas of Greece, but other feta-type cheeses are made in other parts of Europe, and in the US.
- Here in the US feta is made with cow’s milk, and it has a sharper flavor profile.
is feta cheese healthy?
- Feta cheese is lower in fat and calories than most other cheeses, and is healthy if you don’t gorge on it!
- The flavor is sharp and a little goes a long way…it makes a big impact in recipes and salads, etc., without adding a lot of fat.
- Feta is somewhat salty, so stick to about an ounce serving size if you’re watching your sodium.
how to use feta cheese
- Feta is perfect for crumbling on salads, like I do on my wheat berry salad or my chopped asparagus salad.
- The cheese can be a more assertive ingredient in a salad when you slice it into small chunks, as in an Israeli or Greek salad.
- Feta cheese absorbs flavors well, and can be marinated. I make a grapefruit and rosemary marinated feta.
- Feta cheese can be whipped or blended into a dip, see my crudites with fire feta for inspiration.
what you’ll need
The Mediterranean flavors really shine in this simple dish. Notice there’s no salt on this list, the feta is plenty salty.
- a block of feta cheese ~ look for sheep’s milk feta, the flavor is superior.
- mixed olives ~ I like to gather a mix of types for this dish, and ideally they should not be pitted, again for best flavor. If you’ve got a local market with an olive bar, that’s ideal, just grab what you need. Note: warn diners that you are serving olives with the pits inside, and provide a discreet dish for the discarded pits.
- olive oil ~ normally I don’t cook with extra virgin olive oil, I save it for raw uses like drizzling and salad dressings, etc., but I make an exception in this case.
- fresh lemons ~ regular or Meyer lemons will work.
- fresh rosemary ~ it’s beautiful and the piney flavor is perfect here.
- fresh cracked black pepper ~ start with whole peppercorns, the difference is amazing.
- hot pepper flakes ~ adds the finishing touch.
Baked Feta Cheese with Olives, Lemon and Rosemary
- 10 ounce block of sheep's milk feta Note: the amount of cheese can vary, that's fine. If your block is very thick you may want to slice it in half through the middle so you have 2 thinner slabs.
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- juice of 1/2 large lemon
- 1 1/2 cups mixed olives
- 3 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- a few coarse grindings of black pepper
- Set oven to 350F
- Put the feta in a gratin dish or other small ovenproof dish that you will also use for serving.
- Pour the olive oil into the dish, followed by the lemon juice. Arrange the olives around the cheese, with the rosemary. I quarter the squeezed lemon half and throw that in as well. Sprinkle the red and black pepper over all.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbling. I loosely laid a sheet of foil over mine. You can finish under the broiler if you like for a little charring effect.
- Serve hot with toasted bread.
notes and variations
- Add a handful of shrimp and make this a meal!
- Try fresh thyme instead of rosemary.
- You might try cutting the feta in large cubes instead of baking it brick style.
- I'm dying to try this baked feta with my Romesco Sauce.
- As with just about any cheese, you can actually make your own feta at home, here's a recipe.