Indulging in traditional Greek cheese is an essential culinary experience for any cheese lover visiting Greece.
With a rich history dating back centuries, these cheeses showcase the unique flavors and craftsmanship of Greek cuisine. From the tangy and crumbly feta to the robust and aromatic kasseri, traditional Greek cheese offers a diverse range of textures and tastes.
What Makes Greek Cheese So Special?
In the captivating history of Greek cheese, a remarkable transformation unfolded during the Byzantine Empire, laying the foundation for the craftsmanship seen in feta cheese production today.
With the liberation of the Greek people from Ottoman rule, cheese became an integral part of Greek food, as well as the economy. It ignited a surge of innovation among cheese makers and gave rise to over 70 distinct varieties of cheese throughout the country.
Greece, with its rich cheese culture, holds a special allure for cheese enthusiasts. The diverse regional variations in cheese preparation and serving styles offer an enchanting culinary journey. From a delightful Greek breakfast to fine dining in the evening, there’s a cheese out there that will make the experience out-of-this-world.
Whether you savor the tangy sharpness of feta, the velvety smoothness of mizithra, or the robust flavors of graviera, cheese in Greece beckons as the ultimate destination for cheese lovers.
The Most Famous Greek Cheese Dish
Saganaki Cheese (Greek Fried Cheese)
In Greece, cheese holds a special place in their culinary culture. One of the most popular Greek cheeses is saganaki. The name “saganaki” refers to both the dish itself and the small frying pan used to prepare it.
These beloved Greek appetizers are made by frying and flaming saganaki, resulting in a golden crust on the outside and a delightfully gooey texture on the inside. It’s a simple yet irresistible treat for cheese lovers.
Traditionally, saganaki cheese is made using various kinds of cheese, such as kefalograviera and kefalotyri. These medium-hard yellow cheeses have a mild nutty flavor that perfectly complements the frying process. The key is to find a cheese that is firm enough to withstand the heat of frying without fully melting, yet soft enough to achieve the desired softness.
When enjoying saganaki, the ritual of flambéing the cheese with brandy adds a touch of excitement and theater to the dish. It is simply one of the best types of Greek fried cheese around. You can serve saganaki cheese with slices of fresh or grilled bread to add an extra layer of delight to this dish.
Popular Soft Greek Cheese
Manouri, a Greek cheese that often resides in the shadow of its famous counterpart Feta, is a fresh and semi-soft delight. It serves as a low-fat alternative to Greek cream cheese and can be incorporated into various dishes, such as salads and pastries.
This versatile cheese also shines as a delectable Greek dessert when paired with honey and sweet jam. Manouri is crafted by adding milk and/or cream to the whey of sheep’s or goat’s milk, resulting in a cheese that is less salty and creamier compared to Feta.
Visually, Manouri cheese has a resemblance to Mizithra with its soft and white appearance. However, its distinct sweet and salty flavor profile shines through due to its preparation using whole milk and a touch of butter.
This cheese is produced in the regions of Macedonia and Thessalia, where it is relished alongside honey, fruits, and nuts or enjoyed over steamy pasta sauces or simply grilled.
Halloumi, the famous traditional white cheese of Cyprus, holds a special place in the realm of Greek cheeses. For centuries, the recipe for Halloumi was handed down from mother to daughter, as the men took care of the sheep.
This cheese was traditionally crafted using a blend of sheep and goat milk, sometimes even cow’s milk. With its semi-hard, rubbery, and squeaky texture, Halloumi is typically shaped into rectangles or semicircles and often folded.
Originating in Egypt, Halloumi has become closely associated with the island of Cyprus and is widely cherished throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.
What sets Halloumi apart is its high melting point, allowing it to be grilled, boiled, or even fried without losing its form. It can be savored fresh alongside wines and fruits, which creates a delightful combination.
Feta, a popular Greek cheese, derives its name from the Greek word meaning “slice” or “slab.” This term was adopted in the 17th century and refers to the practice of slicing cheese and storing it in barrels, a tradition that persists to this day. Before that, Feta was simply referred to as “cheese” in Greece.
In Greek, the word “saganaki” translates to “little frying pan.” It is both the name of a small frying pan and a popular Greek dish prepared in that pan. As mentioned above, Saganaki is a grilled cheese dish that is often flamed and served as a shared starter throughout Greece.
To make traditional Greek feta saganaki (or Greek fried cheese), you only need a few common ingredients. The feta cheese is coated with a simple mixture of beaten egg and flour before frying.
The result is a crispy exterior with a soft, melty interior that is beyond delicious. It is often served with a squeeze of fresh lemon on top to add a tangy flavor and balance the richness of the cheese. And because this cheese is phenomenal when grilled, they make for delightful Greek street food!
Dodoni Feta, one of the most popular types of Greek cheese, is made exclusively from 100% Greek, pasteurized sheep’s and goat’s milk. This exceptional product holds the esteemed Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.) status, making it globally recognized and awarded for its high and consistent quality. When it comes to taste, Dodoni Feta is one of the best!
You can easily find the authentic Feta Dodoni in various forms. It is available in bulk, packed in large metal containers or plastic containers immersed in brine. Additionally, you can opt for vacuum packs or cubes infused with olive oil and oregano.
Feta, known for its crumbly texture and unique flavor, has been a staple in Greece since ancient times, with a production method dating back to the 8th century B.C. Made from a blend of sheep and goats’ milk, Feta Dodoni is a true representation of the rich tradition of cheese-making in Greece.
Mizithra, also known as Myzithra, is a popular cheese in Greece with various versions distinguished by the type of milk used, fat content, and preparation methods.
It is primarily made from whey, which is obtained during the production of different hard cheeses and even Feta. Another variation is the sour version called Xynomizithra, known for its acquired taste and tangy flavor.
The cheese itself is soft, creamy, and moist, with a snow-white appearance. Mizithra does not contain added salt, resulting in a slightly sweet and milky taste. It is commonly enjoyed as a dessert with honey or as a meze alongside olives and other fresh ingredients, like tomato and salad.
In the region of Chania, Mizithra cheese is used as a key ingredient in a unique meze dish. It is enclosed in thin dough, baked in a traditional stone oven, and served with a generous drizzle of fresh honey.
This innovative combination can only be savored in that specific part of the country, adding to the regional diversity of cheese in Greece and the versatility of Mizithra cheese.
Talagani, a cherished Greek cheese originating from the time-honored tradition of crafting exceptional cheese, embodies the essence of Greek cheese craftsmanship.
Made from a harmonious blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk, it stands as a testament to the rich legacy of Greek cheeses. Talagani delights the palate when grilled to perfection, showcasing its distinct flavors and captivating aromas. With a texture that remains firm yet chewy, it retains its shape without melting, making it a unique and versatile cheese.
Celebrated for its exceptional qualities, Talagani cheese has earned numerous accolades in both national and international competitions.
Sourced exclusively from the lush pastures of Messinia in the Southern parts of Greece, Talagani Cheese embodies the natural bounty of the region. Traditional curing methods, including brine curing, ensure the cheese attains its exceptional flavor and quality.
Anthotyro is a beloved Greek cheese that really captures the essence of cheese in Greece with its versatility.
The production process of Anthotyro is similar to other popular Greek cheeses. The fresh version has a soft texture and a mild flavor – and the dry variety boasts a rich, salty flavor and crumbly texture. You can pair this wonderful cheese with many different Greek food, from pasta to fresh fruit.
With its soft and creamy texture, Anthotyro cheese offers you an explosion of flavor with its unique and phenomenal taste.
The Best Hard Greek Cheese
Kasseri, a beloved Greek cheese, holds a prominent place in the country’s culinary landscape. Primarily produced in the northwest regions of Greece and on the picturesque island of Lesvos, this semi-hard, yellow cheese is crafted using sheep’s milk or a blend of predominantly sheep’s milk with a touch of goat’s milk.
With its mild and savory flavor, Kasseri cheese melts wonderfully, making it a popular choice to replace mozzarella on pizzas or to generously coat pasta when preparing a delectable meal.
This white-crust cheese stands as a notable competitor to the famous Greek cheese, Feta. Many Americans opt for Kasseri as a mozzarella substitute, particularly those who appreciate bold and flavorful cheeses.
The name “kasseri” is believed to derive from the Turkish word “kaşer,” which, in turn, originates from the Hebrew term “kosher.” According to lore, the absence of “rennet” made it compliant with Jewish dietary laws.
However, it should be noted that rennet is indeed used in the production of Kasseri cheese, suggesting that this explanation may simply be a part of the folklore surrounding this Greek cheese.
As one of the most famous examples of Greek cheese, Graviera holds a special place in the hearts of cheese enthusiasts. It ranks closely behind the renowned feta. Produced in various regions across Greece, this exceptional choice showcases the rich diversity of Greek cheeses.
With its hard texture, ranging from light to deep yellow, adorned with small irregular holes and a sturdy rind, Graviera is packed with flavors that span from subtly sweet and nutty to mildly spicy. Even in its young state, this cheese delights the palate with its buttery goodness and pleasing sweetness.
One exceptional variation of this cheese originates from Crete, which is known for its cheesy treasures. This particular type of Graviera boasts a distinct burnt caramel taste, and for cheese lovers, this variety is beyond delicious.
But regardless of the regional variation, Graviera maintains its characteristic traits as a hard yellow cheese with a mild savory flavor that is out-of-this-world.
Kefalotyri, a highly esteemed Greek cheese, holds the distinction of being the oldest among the country’s hard cheese varieties. With its salty and spicy taste and delightful aroma, this cheese goes through a minimum maturation period of three months to achieve its characteristic flavor.
Made from unpasteurized goat’s or sheep’s milk, or a combination of both, Kefalotyri is produced in various regions of Greece – and the cheese can range in color from yellow to white, depending on the milk blend used. It is a versatile cheese that can be grated over hot pasta, added to stews and sauces, or enjoyed on a cheeseboard with fresh fruits and wine.
With its roots dating back to the Byzantine era, this popular Greek cheese can be found in select gourmet and specialty stores globally.
Kefalograviera, one of the most recent Greek cheeses to travel the world, has quickly become a favorite since its production began in the early 60s. This versatile and delicious cheese in Greece holds three Protected Designations of Origin!
The rind of this Greek cheese ranges in color from yellow to dark brown, adding to its visual appeal. It can be enjoyed in various ways, such as being served fried in the form of saganaki or grated on top of freshly cooked pasta.
Greek Cheese: A Place Of Paradise For Cheese Lovers
Exploring the traditional Greek cheese varieties opens up a world of amazing culinary exploration. From the famous feta to lesser-known gems like Graviera and manouri to the theatrical Greek flaming cheese – each cheese in Greece tells a story of heritage and craftsmanship.
Whether sampling them on their own or incorporating them into traditional Greek dishes, the flavors of these cheeses will transport you to the sun-drenched landscapes and vibrant culinary traditions of Greece.