In Greek mythology Aristaios, the son of Apollo and Cyrene, was sent to the Greeks as a gift from the gods. He was to teach them the art of cheese making, an ability that would become known as “a gift of everlasting value.”
Indeed, the Greeks have a long-standing tradition of exquisite cheese making. Ancient texts, including those by Homer, reveal Greece’s oldest brined varieties existed as far back as 4000 BC. And today, many cheeses from the small Mediterranean country have earned protection under the European Union’s PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) provisions.
Just one bite and you’ll understand how cheeses like Feta, Graviera, and Kefalotyri have gained their reputation as some of the finest in the world. Many connoisseurs say the noticeable difference in taste and quality from the fresh ewe and goat’s milks used in production. In fact, many Greek cheeses are made in mountainous regions where goats and sheep graze on wild herbs and grasses – without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. And to that we can only say, “Opa!”
Made throughout Greece for centuries, this traditional whey cheese is crafted from ewe or goat’s milk and typically formed into cone or ball shapes. The Greek name for the PDO variety translates to “flower cheese,” and the cheese displays a floral aroma and flavour with hints of wild herbs and smokey tang. When fresh, Anthotyro is soft, mild and used in cheese pastries or eaten with honey and fruit for breakfast. When aged, it becomes a hard, salty, rich cheese for table or grating.
Greece’s most famous traditional cheese, Feta is a significant part of the Greek diet, adding daily flavour to salads, pastries, and the famous saganaki (fried cheese) appetizer. Made from pure ewe’s milk, or mixed with up to 30% goat’s milk, the white cheese is ripened and kept in brine, giving it a salty, milky, slightly acidic taste. The PDO cheese is made in Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessalia, Sterea Hellas, Peloponissos and Mitilini Island.
With a sweet and fruity taste, this high quality PDO cheese is Greece’s second most popular after Feta. Made in wheels, the rind of the hard cheese is marked with the characteristic crisscross pattern of its draining cloth. There are various types of Graviera produced in Greece. Graviera of Crete is made from sheep’s milk and ripened for at least five months. It’s slightly sweet, with a pleasant burnt caramel flavour.
This “pasta filata” style cheese is Greece’s version of Mozzarella. Semi-hard, mild, and buttery, it’s consumed as a table cheese or melted into sandwiches, omelettes, pizza, or kaseropita pie. The PDO cheese is made from ewe’s milk (sometimes mixed with goat’s milk) and hand stretched and kneaded in Macedonia, Thessalia, Mitilini Island and Xanthe. It has a pale yellow interior and a smooth, creamy white crust, but no rind. Kasseri is slightly salty and pungent, but its underlying flavour is sweet.
The ancestor of many Greek hard cheeses, this unpastuerised ewe or goat’s milk cheese has been made since Byzantine times. Now a PDO cheese, it has a golden yellow colour, rich aroma, and salty, piquant flavor. Kefalotyri is consumed as a table cheese, grated, or cooked into cheese pastries and saganaki. With a sharp, dry, tangy finish, it’s often compared to Italian Romano or Pecorino.
Made exclusively on the Cyclades Islands, this traditional PDO cheese is crafted from ewe, cow, or goat’s milk, or a mixture of the three. It’s soft in texture, but rich in flavour, with an intensely salty piquant taste somewhat similar to Roquefort. Kopanisti is a favoured table cheese for snacking with wine and Greek ouzo.
This exceptional whey cheese is made from the whey of Feta blended with sheep’s milk cream. As a PDO cheese, it’s only made in central and western Macedonia and Thessalia. The popular soft cheese is crafted in various shapes and sizes, but a rindless log is one of the favourite as a table cheese. Manouri is white and creamy in texture, like a light cheesecake. The unique flavour is fresh, milky and slightly lemony. The cheese is often used in pastries, spanakopita, or drizzled with honey and served for breakfast.
Made for thousands of years, this traditional PDO variety is considered the ancestor of all Greek whey cheeses. It is derived from the whey of Feta and Kefalotyri and comes in two types. Fresh Myzithra is consumed within days of production. It may be salted or unsalted, and is similar to cottage cheese. Aged Myzithra is more salty, dry and firm. With a nutty flavour and crumbly texture, it’s comparable to Italian Ricotta Salata. The cheese is wonderful for grating and cooking, especially with pasta dishes. It’s also eaten as an appetiser with olives and tomatoes, or as a dessert with honey.