Did you notice I used 3 kinds of cheese in my mini cheese pies a while back? I am sure you have heard of feta and perhaps Greek gruyere, a mild yellow cheese. But this is the tip of the iceberg, Greeks are avid cheese lovers. According to 2011 statistics, the average Greek consumes 23.4 kg of cheese per year and of course one quarter of that is feta. But feta really is just the beginning. You are guaranteed to find something unique whichever part of Greece you visit – we have approximately 64 different types and we sport 21 cheeses with Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO).
Up North in Macedonia, Thrace and Epirus we have some of the best Gruyeres, Kasseri and Fetas. The Ionian Islands, especially Kefalonia, are also renowned for their exceptional feta and skilled craftmanship. In central Greece and on the plains of Thessaly, gruyeres, feta and soft cream cheeses are in abundance. The southern islands are a whole different world: Syros with San Michali, one of the few cow’s milk cheeses; Mykonos with Kopanisti, the Greek roquefort; Lesvos with exceptional ladotiri, a hard cheese preserved in olive oil; Naxos is another big player when it comes to hard yellow cheeses and produces an exceptional peppery smoked variety. Finally, of course, there’s Crete – a universe of taste in itself. Crete provides nothing less than exceptional produce, with mouth-watering varieties of both soft cream cheese and semi-hard and hard yellow cheeses.
It is impossible to describe any one of these PDO cheeses without doing injustice to another. So let’s see the full list:
- Anevato: made of goat’s and sheep’s milk from animals that graze on the high mountains of Grevena and mount Voio. It’s a soft, grainy white cheese, mildly salty, a tiny bit sour, rich in protein but very fresh.
- Batzos: it’s a relatively low fat brine cheese, embroidered with tiny dots. It’s best enjoyed fried as cooking really brings out its aroma.
- Feta: no comments here. It’s our number one cheese and has made its name worldwide. Feta is made from sheep’s milk and is conserved in brine, either in wooden barrels or tin containers. A white cheese with a mildly sour taste, it’s perfect by itself or with fresh fruit. Equally good as a filling in pies or to accompany meat or poultry. The places renowned for producing it are Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly and Central Greece, Epirus, Peloponnese and Lesvos.
- Formaela from Arachova (very close to Delphi): it’s a semi-hard cheese from sheep’s milk packed in small cylinders, not extremely salty and very rich in flavour. Exceptionally good grilled or fried.
- Galotiri: it’s a soft, crumbly cheese that matures in containers with added milk. It’s a little sour and has a yoghurty texture. Made from Sheep’s & goat’s milk in Epirus and Thessaly.
- Graviera from Agrafa: one of our best gruyere-style cheeses. Produced up on the chilly mountain tops of Agrafa, it maintains all the aroma of its surroundings. Perfect with fresh bread and fruit or as a side for your food. As an added bonus, it doesn’t crust when melted and is wonderfully stringy.
- Graviera from Crete: one superb cheese, especially when matured in the caves of the Cretan mountains. Lightly salted and rich in butter and milk proteins, it has tiny holes and is made with sheep’s & goat’s milk. The finest quality varieties are made solely with sheep’s milk. You can have it any way you like, it’s delicious either raw or cooked.
- Graviera from Naxos: the only cheese here made solely from cow’s milk. It has a pale yellow colour, fine perfume and unique taste. Again you can enjoy this raw or cooked. It’s a perfect accompaniment to summer fruits like grapes, figs and melon.
- Kalathaki from Limnos: a white cheese that stays in brine and keeps the shape of the small chaste tree basket in which it matures. Saltier than feta and very rich tasting. It is produced by sheep’s or a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk. The aromas of Limnos’ mountains are beautifully incorporated.
- Kasseri: this is our number 2 cheese. Oily and mild in salt, a very subtle cheese, especially favoured in the urban centres. It is made with sheep’s milk using the pulled curd method (pasta filata) that came from Italy hundreds of years ago. There is no soufflé, pizza, pie or au gratin that has not been embellished with kasseri.
- Katiki from Domokos: a soft cream cheese from goat’s and sheep’s milk. Naturally low in fat and with very subtle aromas. It is offered as a table cheese, I have to admit I eat it for breakfast as a spread.
- Kefalograviera: on the salty side, this is for spicy cheese lovers. Made with sheep’s and goat’s milk. It is extremely tasty and wonderful grated on pasta, or fried as saganaki.
- Kopanisti: an island cheese made in the Cyclades. This is one super spicy cream cheese with peppery tones. Many call it the Greek roquefort. Perfect to accompany ouzo and tsipouro. Kopanisti matures under the burning sun of the Cyclades and, again, is produced from sheep’s and goat’s milk.
- Ladotiri from Mitilene: one majestic spicy, hard cheese that matures in oil. It is a table cheese and nowadays is coated with paraffin for transport. The original kind has a yellow-reddish colour, mild flavour and strong aroma.
- Manouri: from the north of Greece, Thessaly and Macedonia. It is full fat mizithra cheese. Very buttery and wholesome, it is wonderful as a table cheese or accompanied with honey and nuts. Slightly salty and, if aged, perfect on pasta.
- Metsovone: a cheese from a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk with a soft yellow colour. It is smoked and made in the pasta filata method. Shaped like a cylinder it can be eaten raw or on the grill. Produced in Metsovo, on the high mountains of Pindus.
- Piktogalo from Chania: an everyday cheese from beautiful Crete. It’s creamy and thick like yogurt with a slightly sour tone.
- San Michali: one of the best Greek cheeses, it is the signature of Syros. Cow’s milk only, with a rich, spicy flavour reminiscent of parmesan. Perfect as it is, exceptionally good with fruit.
- Sfela or Fire feta: it is a type of feta that has been processed over fire twice. This gives sfela its unique flavour. A Peloponnese favourite, it is eaten exactly like feta, with everything! A very very old recipe.
- Ksinomizithra from Crete: a sharp, sour cream cheese, perfect as a mezze with ouzo or tsipouro. It is ideal on spicy dishes in its raw form. When cooked it becomes much sweeter and is often used in pies.
- Ksigalo Siteias: another offering from Crete. This fresh, mildly sour cream cheese is perfect on salad and pies that entered the PDO hall of fame in 2011.
The list was edited and translated with love from the work of Elias Mamalakis , a true master of Greek gastronomy.