How TikTok Helped a Finnish Baked Feta Pasta Go Viral

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In the diluted world of small-batch cheese, Tom Colicchio’s reputation for his favorite blooming bowl at “Top Chef” is the most well-known product.

This is why Anne Saxelby, the founder and co-owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers in New York City, was so surprised when a supplier told her that a recipe for the popular TikTok video app had generated such a demand for feta that she didn’t would get their weekly delivery of the cheese.

Ms. Saxelby and her feta maker – Narragansett Creamery, a small Rhode Island dairy – were implicated in the video recipe phenomenon known as baked feta noodles. It’s an extremely simple, extremely creamy, oven-baked pasta sauce made from a whole block of feta cheese embedded in half a liter of cherry tomatoes, with olive oil, chilli, and garlic.

The recipe was first set on fire in Finland in 2018 after food blogger Jenni Hayrinen made uunifetapasta, Finnish for oven-baked feta noodles. (It was a tweaked version of a dish called Prosecco Spaghetti and Oven Tomatoes, made by Tiiu Piret, another Finnish food blogger.)

But in the US, it didn’t really start until it got rave fans on TikTok in early January. The videos are likely made by influencers as well as teenagers without a large fan base. Now #fetapasta has over 600 million views, excluding Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and followers of Rachael Ray, the Today show, and Good Morning America.

[Melissa Clark’s first TikTok video was her one-pan version of the #fetapasta]

By mid-February – when feta was the # 1 search term on the Instacart grocery delivery app – The Charlotte Observer temporarily reported empty feta shelves in local stores such as Harris Teeter’s supermarkets. Demand rose 200 percent, said Danna Robinson, a spokeswoman for the company, which operates more than 230 stores in seven states.

Narragansett Creamery, which supplies Saxelby Cheesemongers and markets like Zabar’s and Eataly with their Salty Sea Seta, is now expanding weekly production from £ 6,000 to £ 10,000 per week, said Mark Federico Jr., who runs the company with his parents. (This higher number is how much they produced at the height of the summer salad season, before sales to restaurants were wiped out by the pandemic.)

Kroger was also surprised, said Walshe Birney, who oversees the specialty cheeses for the national supermarket chain that owns Murray’s Cheese. Sales of feta blocks, which are creamier than the crumbles, rose.

“This is the largest, geographically broadest increase in interest and sales in a product that I have ever seen in person,” wrote Birney in an email.

While there is no shortage of feta at Krinos Foods, the country’s largest importer and manufacturer of Greek and Mediterranean foods, sales have been stronger than usual for months. Eric Moscahlaidis, the company’s chairman, said Krinos could convince some Walmarts and Costcos to conduct trial sales of real Greek feta in addition to the cow’s milk versions already in stock. (In Europe, feta is a name-protected product that, in certain regions of Greece, has to be made from local sheep and goat milk.)

But feta isn’t the only food getting a real boost from TikTok. And it probably won’t be the last, given the rapidly rising status of TikTok recipes like the baked oat cake and vegan do-it-yourself chicken.

Ms. Saxelby sold another cheese, Winnimere, after a friend’s TikTok video praising the cheese received more than 250,000 views in two days. She sold 20 full rounds in a day – 12 in a normal week – and the Vermont dairy that makes it, Jasper Hill Farm, had a significant traffic spike on their website.

After months of another popular TikTok recipe known as the tortilla wrap hack – you cut, fill, and fold a large flour tortilla to make a giant sandwich wedge – Georgia’s Olé Mexican Foods saw a nationwide spike in burrito sales -Size tortillas. Most of the growth has been in cities that are not “traditional tortilla markets,” said Enrique Botello, the company’s marketing manager.

Last spring, Target stores across the country repeatedly ran out of packs of martinelli’s apple juice when millions of TikTokers – including singer Lizzo – discovered that it sounds like crunching the actual fruit when you eat the apple-shaped one Plastic bottle bites.

The 153-year-old Californian company had to ramp up production to keep up, said Tom Brancky, a marketing consultant who gave a weekly PowerPoint presentation last May to keep the company updated on any video hits. He still sends it out once a month.

“It was phenomenal, it was unreal,” he said, “and it was mostly high school-aged kids who drove it.”