Our cheesy narration of a trip across the country
When deciding what are some of the best cheeses in the world, one might perhaps consider Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, French Roquefort, and Camembert, or Swiss Emmental, which are all undoubtedly excellent, however, Greece is not far behind in the field of cheese making. Every corner of this beautiful Mediterranean country produces its own special cheese. Some of which are marked with a certificate (P.D.O. – Protected Designations of Origin), confirming their unique, regional method of production and high quality.
Cheesemaking traditions in Greece can be traced back to the times of Homer and his “Odyssey”, in which he mentions cheese making process that closely resembles that of Feta. And although the maker of cheese in his poem happens to be a moody cyclops named Polyphemus, in Greece, cheesemaking is owed to generations of talented craftsmen. Unique flavors can be traced to many of Greece’s villages and islands.
Starting our voyage from Central Greece, we have to mention the “Katiki” for which the town of Domokos is famous. This is a light cream cheese made of goat’s milk, that has a notably delicate taste. In Aetolia, we can get acquainted with hard cheese “Kefalograviera” awarded (P.D.O.), while Parnassus boasts its wonderful hard cheese “Formaela”, which has a cylindrical shape and smokey flavor. In this region, we can also come across “Teleme” and “Tsalafuti”, soft white cheeses from Agrinio with a texture resembling that of yogurt.
Going south to the Peloponnese we can try “Sfela”, eaten fresh in the western part of the island (it resembles Feta), and when this cheese matures, it is often used to make the delicious Saganaki, which is a delicious deep fried cheese dish. The residents of Leonidio serve “Simpukukira” cheese, which is made from sour cream, and in Kalavrita you may find many incredible variations of “Formaela”.
Continuing on our journey we get to Crete, where the cheese industry has flourished for many years and now produces excellent products. In addition to ricotta, which is grated with salt into spaghetti, Cretans are proud of their unique “Gravière” cheese (P.D.O.). Lightly salty, it comes in large wheels and is served raw, baked, or fried. While “Kefalograviera”, another signature of the region, happens to be more piquant and hard. Cheese “Malaka” (or “Tiromalama”) in Crete is not any less famous: it is made at the last stage of Kefalograviera production. It is used for pies and pastries due to its excellent melting properties.
Cheese Xinomizitra (P.D.O.) has a sour taste and contains few calories. For the local “Myzitra” is characterized by a mild taste, and is enjoyed grated over a fresh dish of spaghetti. Finally, “Staka”, which can hardly be called cheese, is rather a dairy product obtained from skimmed salted milk. It is often used in Crete instead of butter or margarine when frying eggs, spaghetti, and pies.
The island of Dodecanese has long specialized in the soft Elika cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. And on the island of Spit, you need to try “Krasotiri”, which is soaked in wine for several days prior to serving. It is shaped like a tree trunk and then cut into pieces. Islands of Nisyros and Leros boast similar cheeses.
Cheese making is well developed in the Cyclades – local cheeses are widely known. “Arseniko” cheese is popular on the island of Naxos, and “Graviera” (P.D.O.) cheese from the island of Tinos is considered to be one of the best in Greece. The light yellow “Gravière” from Naxos (P.D.O.) has a unique and rare flavor, and the famous Cycladic “Kopanisti” (P.D.O.) is sharp and salty, making it an excellent salad topping.
Sifnos’s “Manura” cheese has a salty flavor, soft texture, a pleasant pink hue, and a wine aroma, all due to the special preparation technique – this cheese is kept in wine sediment. “San Michali” (P.D.O.) from Syros is a special cheese: in Greece, it is considered to be cheese of the highest quality and most expensive of them all, it’s made from cow’s milk and has a mild, spicy flavor.
“Chloro” from Santorini can be eaten both fresh and soft or mature and hardened. “Xinogala” from Sikinu Island is a great addition to a salad. This soft cheese is squeezed out of sheep’s or goat’s milk and then dried for a long period of time.
Northern Aegean Islands, especially Lemnos, have a long history of cheese making traditions. In addition to “Kalataki” (P.D.O.) with its characteristic shape and salty flavor, they also make “Kaseri” (P.D.O.) that has a yellowish shade with a subtle aroma. Cheese “Ladotiri” (P.D.O.) from Mitilini is rightfully one of the best cheeses in Greece: it is steeped in spiced oil from which it gets a spectacular flavor. Soft cheese “Mastelo” is produced on the island of Chios: an exclusive recipe belongs to Mr. Kostas Tumasu, who has achieved great success with this brand, not only in Greece but also abroad.
Now let’s move a little north – to Thrace. You may find here “Telemes”, which is considered a cheese product rather than actual cheese. In Macedonia, you may find the traditional “Aneato” (P.D.O.) which is a soft, low-fat white cheese that strongly resembles ricotta.
In Thessaloniki, cheese “Victoria” is widely celebrated – yellow and cylindrical in shape it has a rough surface. It is a bit like “Metsovone”, but without the characteristic smoky flavor. Cream cheese “Manouri” (P.D.O.), saturated with fats, goes very well with salads. It is made in Macedonia and Thessaly. This cheese may be eaten fresh and as an excellent addition on top of various dishes, salty or sweet.
Thessaly is also famous for its “Galotiri” cheese (P.D.O.) which resembles in its flavor a salted yogurt. In the mountain village near Agraf, “Graviera” (P.D.O.) cheese has unique aromas. Take note of “Batzos” (P.D.O.) – this low-calorie cheese is often served fried. Also in Thessaly you may always find “Kasari”, “Mizitra”, and “Kefalotiri” cheeses.
Epirus is known not only for its cakes but also for its cheeses, mainly “Metsonone” (P.D.O.). It is a yellow cheese with a pronounced smokey flavor and a viscous texture. Here you may also try the salty and spicy cheese named “Kefalograviera” (P.D.O.), the recipe of which came from Epirus. In the city of Tulum, you can taste “Tulumothiri” – light cream cheese, as well as “Galotiri”.
Our journey ends with the Ionian Islands. In Mitato, one should pay attention to “Ladotiri” cheese, and in Kerkyra – to “Kefalograviera” and “Ladograviera” hard cheeses.
And thus we have looked into some of the most remarkable examples of Greek cheese making. But we shouldn’t forget about the most famous of Greek cheeses – the “Feta” cheese, which is crafted in almost every region of Greece.