Feta is arguably the best-known Greek food abroad. In 2004, the European Union granted Greek Feta a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status and issued a decree, prohibiting European countries other than Greece to use the name Feta. In Europe, similar cheeses are called “brined white cheese.” Within Greece, Feta can be made only in specific regions: Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly, Central Mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, and Lesvos.
Greek Feta production abides by very specific rules that control the manufacture and the allowed percentage of goat’s milk in the cheese. Feta is made predominantly with sheep’s milk, although a small percentage of goat’s milk (up to 30%) can be added. Cow’s milk is never used in the production of true Feta. While texture varies from feta to feta, one telltale sign to help you discern the quality of the cheese is to press a little of it between your tongue and the roof of your mouth; if you get a grainy, almost floury feel on the palate, chances are the cheese has been made with milk solids. Real feta, whether sharp, mild, hard or soft, always has a creamy finish.
Greeks are very particular about their Feta. Some like it soft and moist and rather mild, others prefer it as hard and crumbly as you can make it. Others want the distinct flavor of the goat-hide. Still others like their Feta to be lemony sour.
The word literally means “blossom” cheese, after the way the curds “blossom” as they are stirred, the curds rise to the tops of the vats and open in a shape resembling blooms. The cheese is similar to ricotta, but lightly salted. It is eaten fresh with jam or honey, and often baked into sweet pastries, especially around Easter time.
One of the best table cheeses in Greece produced in several areas. Graviera is generally a nutty, pale yellow cheese with a hard rind made either from sheep’s milk or from cow’s milk, depending on the region. Graviera, sweet, mellow, and nutty, is one of the most delicious Greek cheeses. Some of the best-known sheep’s milk gravieras come from Crete, Mytilene, Dodoni, Arta and Kalpaki. Crete is actually the most famous graviera-producing region, and here one of the unusual ways to serve the cheese is with honey and walnuts. Cow’s milk graviera, which is yellower and a little creamier, is made mostly in Tinos, Syros, Naxos, Corfu, Larissa, and Serres.
Kasseri is the most popular table cheese after feta. It is a mild, yellow, spuncurd cheese made from either ewe’s or cow’s milk.
Another pale-yellow cheese with a hard rind and an abundance of small air holes. As its name indicates, in both flavor and texture it falls somewhere between Graviera and Kefalotyri. It can range rom sweet and mild to quite piquant. Kefalograviera is the cheese of choice for grilling and frying, but also as a table cheese.
A very hard, light-yellow sheep’s or goat’s milk cheese with a sharp tangy flavor. The cheese is made mainly in Crete, as well as in Naxos, Cephalonia, Thessaly, and Epirus. It is a popular grating cheese.
Another unusual product, the name of which means “oil cheese.” The cheese, which is shaped like miniature barrels, is steeped in olive oil and aged for several months. Lesvos is the most famous place in Greece for ladotyri. The cheese is sharp, nutty and with a distinct, almost crunchy, texture. It’s excellent as a table cheese.
This is a creamy, buttery mild white cheese that is sold in log-shaped loaves. It is excellent as a dessert cheese, topped with honey, or with poached fruits, and complements the sweet wines of Greece exceptionally well.
This is a rich, hard, smoked yellow cheese made in Metsovo, Epirus. It resembles smoked Provolone. Metsovone is made in large sausage- like loaves, usually from raw cow’s milk. It is delicious as a table cheese, but it is also delicious fried (saganaki), as the local tavernas serve it -with a sprinkling of paprika- and melted into cheese sauce.
The word dates to the 16th century, when it referred to a kneaded cheese. Myzithra is a feta byproduct. Traditionally the whey from feta is combined with some whole milk, and curdled for several days. The curds are collected, drained, lightly salted and pressed. Myzithra is sold either as a soft table cheese, or aged into rockhard balls and used as a grating cheese.