France is internationally famous for its cheese culture and its different varieties of the addictive dairy product, however, Greece has an equally interesting selection of cheese that not many outside its borders are familiar with.
With centuries-long tradition in cheese-making and hundreds of recipes to incorporate cheese in dishes and pies, Greece has also begun to explore how all those different flavours can be paired with its exquisite wines.
While most of Greek cheeses are hard to find abroad, Australia is one of the lucky countries that benefit from the strength of its Greek community ensuring dedicated deli shops offer those unique flavours that make us all feel closer to home; some fresh and locally produced, most imported from Greece.
Here’s a list of Hellenic cheeses you can add to your next platter, to make your guests’ taste-buds explode:
Anevato is a soft, pale pink and naturally fermented aromatic cheese that hails from Grevena and Kozani in western Macedonia and together with galotyri, is one of the most ancient in Greece. Anevato is mainly produced during summer, just after the lactation period ends for goats and ewes. The milk is richer and the warm temperatures help reach the souring and fermentation easier which occurs under a controlled temperature. It is strained and salted on the surface only and takes two months to mature until it can be consumed.
Anthotyro is made with milk and whey from sheep or goats and can be both fresh or dried. Produced across Greece the soft, creamy version and the semi-hard variation has no rind or salt, while the dry variation is dry and salty used as topping for pasta.
A protected salty cheese, Batzos is produced in Thessaly as well as in Central and Western Macedonia. It originated from the Vlachs and was a seasonal cheese, that shepherds made in the mountains. Batzos can be both hard or semihard and is produced with unpasteurised and slightly skimmed sheep’s milk or with a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. It ages in brine for a minimum of six months and then beaten with a rod about 200 times to separate the butter from the curd and into the whey. The curd is strained, salted, and left to strain further for a few days until it goes back into the brine. It is usually served fried or grilled.
A Thessaly and Epirus favourite Galotyri is made from feta, milk and yogurt and is similar to cottage cheese.
Graviera is the Cretan version most popular for being hard but mildly flavoured. Made from sheep’s milk or a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk and produced in wheels, Graviera ages for at least five months until it hardens and acquires a sweet nutty flavour. It makes the perfect Saganaki and it can also be used as a topping for pasta.
Feta needs no introduction. It’s the favourite Greek white cheese around the world famous for its moist, yet crumbly texture. Made of sheep’s milk and often goat’s milk, it usually ages in wooden barrels and brine for a minimum of two months prior to consumption. Depending on the goat’s-sheep’s milk percentage, the location and the aging process feta’s flavour can vary in saltiness, tanginess and spiciness.
Formaela is a lightly yellow hard cheese produced from sheep’s or goat’s milk exclusively in Arachova, Greece. It is a protected designation of origin cheese and quite aromatic, usually consumed grilled or fried.
Haloumi is the national cheese of Cyprus and traditionally is made with sheep’s milk sometimes mixed with cow’s milk with the addition of fresh mint leaves between its folded layers. A bit salty but quite mild taste-wise, haloumi is semi-firm, and chewy widely consumed as is, fried, or grilled around the world.
Katiki Domokou takes it’s name from Domokos, Greece and is a smooth but grainy naturally fermented cheese. It has a slightly sour aftertaste and it’s drained in cheesecloths until it reaches a moisture of around 60 per cent, at which point it is ready for consumption. It’s also known as shepherds’ cream cheese.
Kasseri is a semi-hard cheese made from a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk. Kasseri is pale yellow in colour and has a mild tangy flavour with a springy texture. It is slightly salty and, like many sheep’s milk cheeses, a bit oily in texture. It’s mainly made in Macedonia, Thessalia, Xanthi and Lesvos island.
Kefalotiri, or Kefalotyri, is a tangy, sharp sheep’s milk table cheese a bit nutty in flavour made across Greece. Like graviera, it is great for saganaki.
Kopanisti Mykonou is a soft spicy and quite rich in salt protected cheese mainly found in Mykonos since 1800. It has been dubbed the ‘Greek Roquefort’, made from cow’s or sheep’s milk or a mixture of both and ages for about two months.
Ladotyri Mytilinis is a protected hard cheese made on Lesvos island since antiquity and gets its name from being preserved in extra virgin olive oil. Ladotyri consists of sheep’s milk or with a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, the latter at a 30 per cent analogy at most. It ages for at least three months before it reaches consumption.
Manouri: A whey cheese produced in Macedonia, Thessaly again made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, or both. It is soft and spreadable like Chevre but tangier.
Metsovone: this semi-hard smoked table cheese made from cow’s milk or a blend of cow, sheep and/or goat’s milk, it takes its name from the village of Metsovo and it’s similar to provolone. Grilled metsovone is one of the area’s signature dishes.
Myzithra: an aged whey cheese that has been around for thousands of years, myzithra can be made from any blend ratio of sheep’s, goat’s and/or cow’s milk and is mainly used as grating on pasta or in pies.
* Xynomizithra is made from strained ewe and/or goat whey which is heated and stirred. A small amount of full-cream milk is then added. The resulting curd stands for 30 minutes and is then put into molds to drain. It is then pressed and ripened for not less than two months.
Pichtogalo Hanion is yet another soft cheese from, Chania, Western Crete. It is made with sheep’s milk or with a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. The milk is heated and natural rennet is added, then the mixture, once solidified, is left to sour in the vessel in which it coagulated. The curds are not cut but are transferred to a table strewn with muslin so that the whey may drain. Once salt is added to the curds, the cheese is ready to be served.
Sifnos aged manoura is a spicy Cycladian cheese that is produced with sheep’s and goat’s milk which then ages in wine sediment. It has a very distinctive wine flavour as it ages in wine residue from where it gets its purple exterior.
Talagani: named after a Greek shepherd’s traditional winter cape, this handmade traditional Greek grilled cheese is very similar to haloumi but with a fuller and spicier taste. It is best eaten grilled or fried.
Telemes is quite similar to feta although not aged in barrels, but in tins. It can only be made with cow’s milk although it was used to be produced with a combination of sheep’s, goat’s, and cow’s milk. It is preserved in a strong brine, where it remains for several days. Some cheese makers would add roasted sesame seeds into the cheese before draining.
Xynotyri is an unpasteurised sour and hard whey cheese; it’s also rather pungent. It is traditionally drained and cured in reed baskets or allowed to mature in bags made of animal skin. Xynotyri is eaten fresh cheese or after being ripened for three months. Meanwhile, the Lactobacillus strains in Xynotyri have been found to have antibacterial effects that kill Salmonella pathogens.
HOW TO PAIR GREEK CHEESE WITH WINE:
- The most pungent and spicy cheeses like Anevato, Kopanisti and Katiki go perfectly with Mavrodafni, as well as with Moschato.
- Yellow cheeses like Kaseri, Kefalotyri can be paired with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc and Vidiano.
- Hard aged types of cheese the likes of Graviera, Formaela, Batzos, Ladotyri and Kefalograviera go well with Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro varieties.
- Metsovone is great with Xinomavro as well but works brilliantly with Assyrtiko.
- For Feta, Telemes, Anthotyro and Mizithra a Riesling would be a good choice or even a Port
- Manouri, Pichtogalo Hanion, Xinotyri and Xinomitzithra you can try both Pinot Noir and Shiraz/Syrah.
- Sifnos Manoura is perfect with a Muscat or a Vinsanto.