5 popular white Greek cheeses you should try
Photo and text by Mirella Kaloglou & Panos Diotis.
Since antiquity, cheese has played an essential role in Greek diet. According to mythology, cheese making was taught to people by the son of Apollo, Aristaios. If you ever read Homer’s Odyssey, you may also remember when Ulysses was in the cave of the giant Polyphemus. The giant had a lot of fat goats and sheep in his possession and the cave was full of baskets with cheeses.
Most Greek cheese are more or less made with the same eons-old techniques and are still using sheep and goat’s milk as the main ingredient. Greece has mainly a mountainous terrain which favors the farming of goats and sheep, thus most Greek cheeses use their milk instead of cow’s milk which is more available abroad.
Over the years, some other cheese making techniques were also introduced to Greece, but they were also changed and adapted to local customs so they acquired a new “personality”. This makes Greek cheese production truly unique and authentic.
Unfortunately, most people abroad only know about feta. Greek feta is really amazing and it does have a unique flavor. If you never tried any other Greek cheese however, you’re missing out. There are soft, medium or hard cheeses. There are sweeter or saltier cheeses. There are fresh and mature cheeses. There’s literally a cheese for every occasion
Perhaps that’s why Greece has one of the highest per capita consumption of cheese, in the world. Greeks love their cheeses. According to the famous Greek Chef and gastronomy expert Mr. Elias Mamalakis, Greece has around 100 cheese varieties. Isn’t that amazing? Most of those cheeses are locally produced, by small family-owned companies. That’s why Greece has a lot of regional cheeses. So if you ever visit, make sure to ask for local cheese in the taverns and restaurants you’ll be dining in. There are at least 20 PDO cheeses from Greece and list keeps growing!
Being a Greek food blog, we always wanted to write a couple of articles, to introduce you to some of the most popular Greek cheeses. You may remember an article we wrote a few years back, for a Graviera cheese from the island of Naxos which we tried. Since most Greek cheeses are only available in specialty stores and delis abroad, we had to choose carefully which popular cheeses we should include in an article.
We decided to write two articles: one for popular white, soft to medium Greek cheeses (the one you’re currently reading) and one for yellow, medium to hard Greek cheeses, at some point in the future. Of course, these cheeses are very common here, so there’s no need to provide this article in Greek, as every native Greek knows -and has most likely also- tasted them.
How to savor the taste of each Greek cheese
In order to appreciate the flavors and to fully experience the taste of each Greek cheese, you should have some crusty fresh bread available on the table. After trying one of the cheeses, eat a small bite of bread, to “clean up” the taste of the cheese from your mouth and prepare it for the next cheese you’ll be trying out.
How to serve the cheeses
A plate with these cheeses would be best served with: dried fruits, like apricots, fresh ripe grapes and/or figs, almonds, walnuts or even pecans, honey, a baguette or another fresh crusty bread, breadsticks and/or rusks.
So let’s start with our yummy list of white Greek cheeses!
As Mr. Mamalakis put it in one of his books, feta is “the Queen of the Greek cheeses”; and he’s totally right. This is THE most popular Greek cheese, both domestically as well as abroad. Feta accounts for 40% of cheese consumption in Greece. Greeks eat feta almost with everything :) Us Greeks will eat it on breakfast, in cheese pies, we’ll eat as a side in our lunch, we’ll add it in salads, we’ll make sauces with it, we’ll use it in snacks and sandwiches or we’ll simply enjoy it with some fresh crusty bread and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil at any time of the day.
Feta means “slice” and took its name from the slices which were cut in order to store it in barrels. Feta is only made with goat’s or sheep’s milk. So, when you see a “feta” made with cow’s milk, it’s not really feta. It’s simply a similar, cheaper white cheese and the flavor is vastly inferior.
Feta is preserved in brine, and usually eaten within a few days from purchase. It’s always store in the fridge in airtight closed containers.
Its texture may vary from soft to medium (firm), depending on the amount of salt used in its production, the milk used and the production technique. Some feta varieties are tangier and slightly sour; those are usually the ones that are barrel-aged. They’re the most popular ones here in Greece.
One of the most popular uses for feta is in Greek savory pies. Such pies are the tyropita (cheese pie), the spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie), or the kolokythopita (zucchini and cheese pie). Of course, one of the best ways to enjoy feta, is in Greek salad.
Anthotyros, also known as anthotyro or anthotiros, is a fresh, soft cheese that may remind you of ricotta. Anthotyros literally means “flower cheese”. It’s creamy in texture and it’s very mild in taste. It’s low in salt and low in fat, that’s why it’s preferred by many people who are on a diet.
Just like with feta, it’s also made with goat’s and sheep’s milk, and is mostly used in savory pies. Most people are actually using half feta and half anthotyros in their spanakopita or hortopita (greens pie) or other hand pies (like these).
Because of its mild flavor, anthotyros is also used in the preparation of desserts, like in the Cretan kaltsounia.
Kalathaki is a regional cheese, made in the island of Lemnos/Limnos. The name kalathaki literally means “small basket” and it’s given to the cheese because of the small baskets used to drain the cheese, from which it also takes its shape.
It’s also made with sheep’s and goat’s milk and its texture is like a firm feta. The flavor however is different. Kalathaki is less tangy, much saltier and a bit lower in fat than feta, so some dieticians are suggesting using this instead, for people who try to lose some weight.
We love using kalathaki in salads, especially in Greece salad. Make sure to add less salt though, as it is already too salty by its own:) Kalathaki is also great when added in shrimp saganaki or gratinated instead of feta in dishes like this mac and cheese.
Manouri is a mild flavored cheese, also made from sheep’s and goat’s milk. It’s a soft cheese, slightly firmer than anthotyros and usually produced in tubes.
Regarding its fat content, it’s very different from anthotyros, as it contains around 35-40% fat. This is because they add cream in its production. So, the result is a rich cheese that’s perfect when served as a dessert.
Manouri is also served in salads, usually gratinated first, or in pastries. Ourselves, we prefer it with some thyme honey and crashed, toasted walnuts. Pure heaven!
Katiki is a fresh, very soft and creamy cheese, produced exclusively in Domokos, in Central Greece. Its consistency is like Greek yogurt, with a refreshing, slightly sour, goat cheese flavor.
Low in calories, it’s often used as a spread with some crusty fresh bread. It’s also used as a base in various dips and sauces. You should try this one as a spread with some grilled pittas or a fresh baguette. The taste is amazing!
Choosing the right wine varieties
One of the best choices for trying out a plate with these Greek cheeses, is the Roditis or the Assyrtiko wine varieties. Those are white wines, made with ancient grape varieties. If it’s a bit difficult to find a bottle of those abroad, you may also serve a Sauvignon Blanc
For this article we asked the permission to use some information from a book on Greek cheese by Mr. Elias Mamalakis, the famous Greek chef and gastronomy expert. We’d like to thank him for his contribution and for all his hard work throughout the years.