Each region boasts its own variations of cheese. Most will be made with sheep and/or goat’s milk – 30 percent goat’s milk is the recommended maximum when combined – because they are better suited to the mountainous terrain of Greece than dairy cows.
Feta is as Greek as the Acropolis, or Homer, or Zorba. One of the great versatile cheeses of the world it stands on its own to be enjoyed peasant style with bread and olives, or even with bread and grapes; in a salad; ,or in cooked dishes including tiropita, spanakopita. It is starting to find a place in pizzas too. Its tangy, salty flavour gives it its identity. It is kept in brine water which helps preserve and flavour the cheese. Sometimes it is stored in wooden barrels for two months or more to add to its flavour.
Haloumi is Cyprus’ cheese and, like Feta, has been gaining an international profile. It is a hard cheese that like feta, is stored in brine. Its chief characteristic is its high melting point which allows it to keep its shape whether grilled or fried. Rennet (enzymes derived from sheep stomach) is used to curdle the milk and lend Haloumi its unique properties.
Graviera originates from Crete. It is a mild yet hard cheese that combines sheep’s and goat’s milk. It has a sweety and nutty flavour and is allowed to age for five months or more before consumption. It is used in cooking and can also be fried.
Saganaki is a another cheese that handles heat well and comes into its own when fried and served as a meze served with lemon and pepper. It is a great companion to shrimp and mussels. In the US the cheese is flambéd at the restaurant table and the flames doused with lemon juice – it is called “flaming saganaki”.
Kasseri is pale, yellow, semi-hard cheese, yellow in colour with a tangy, salty flavour. It is a little oily to the touch and has consistency similar to the Italian Mozarella making it a good substitute in pizzas. It can be grated over pasta dishes or soups. Macedonia, Thessalia, Xanthi and Mitlini are popular producers of Kasseri.
Kefalotiri is a hard, salty and tangy cheese and is the Greek equivalent to parmesan and therefore a great addition to pasta and other cooked dishes. It is a regional speciality in much of mainland Greece including Epirus, Macedonia, Thessalia, Crete as well as the Ionian Islands and the Cyclades. It is considered the father of Greece’s hard cheeses with references to it dating to Byzantine times. It goes well when eaten in combination with fresh figs, grapes and pears. And it is a good companion to a glass of red wine.
Myzithra is another cheese with a long and ancient history. Unlike other cheeses that are made from the curdling of sheep and goat’s milk, myzithra is made with whey (the by-product of cheesemaking which is used to curdle the milk for myzirthra) and shares a similar process to ricotta. The acid from vinegar or lemon juice can also be used to curdle the boiled milk. The curdled liquid is hung in a cheesecloth bag to drain the excess liquid over a number of days. The resultant myzithra is sweet and moist and ready for eating or used in baked dishes
Xinomyzithra is a more acidic and, therefore, more sour variant created by rubbing the myzithra with salt and allowing it to age for a period of time before eating. Depending on the ageing process, the cheese can turn hard and dry – ideal for grating. When it reaches this stage it is known as anthotyro xero.
Myzithra can be enjoyed in combination with honey as a dessert, or when combined with olives and tomato as a meze. It can be used as table cheese, in salads, pastries and baking.
A product of western Macedonia and Thessalia, Manouri is another “whey” cheese. It is has soft creamy texture thanks to the addition of fresh milk or cream early in the process. It is soft and spreadable with a unique tangy taste.
Galotiri is a favourite in Epirus and Thessaly from a combination of milk (usually sheep’s milk alone or in combination with goat’s milk) and yoghurt. It is usually produced in August when the milk is at its fattiest to produce a soft, rindless creamy cheese that serves as a meze to go with ouzo and/or raki. It is also used as a substitute to feta in some recipes – it contains fewer calories and is less salty than feta.
A cheese unique to Mytlini and northern Aegean, Lathotyri is made with a combination of sheep and goat’s milk and is aged in cylindrical moulds to produce a pale yellow cheese that is very salty. The cheese is preserved in olive oil or covered with paraffin wax, hence the name which means “cheese preserved in oil”. It goes well with salads and prepared dishes and works well with light wines.
READ MORE: Say cheese!