Celebrate Cheesefare Week
In Greece, these three pre-Lent weeks have evolved from the ancient Karnavali (καρναβάλι), pronounced kahr-nah-VAH-lee, or carnival, into a period called Apokries (Απόκριες), pronounced ah-POH-kree-ehs, meaning a gradual pulling “away from meat.” This is a Greek Mardi Gras of sorts—a masquerade filled with fun, laughter, and indulgence in food.
Cut the [Greek] Cheese!
And in that life, man cannot live on feta alone—not when there’s an abundance of Greek cheeses to explore and enjoy! You’ll also need some olives and crusty bread to complete the experience. Before I go off on a tangent (which is really not hard to do when it comes to food) lets get back to cheese. Aside from feta, there’s a wealth of Greek cheeses that are not that well known in the non-Greek community.
In Karpathos, as on many of the Greek islands, fresh and aged cheeses are uniquely made in the homes of each village using sheep’s and/or goat’s milk so the varieties are seemingly endless. The animals are grass fed and graze freely, producing milk of the highest quality. Most of these cheeses are not exported so if you want to sample the tyrí Yiayiá makes, you have to take a trip to her kouzina. The good news is that there are many commercially-produced cheeses that are exported and are becoming more available in specialty markets, gourmet shops, Greek/Mediterranean stores and supermarkets throughout the United States. A few of them can also be ordered online!
This week the Greek cheese plate is on Kukla’s Kouzina’s table with details about each variety featured in our cookbooks, including how they can be used, along with acceptable substitutions (if available). A list of places where you can purchase these cheeses follows.
(sheep’s and/or goat’s milk, aged and kept in a salty whey brine for at least two months)
Soft-creamy to semi-firm, flavor ranges from moderately salty to salty-peppery-sharp
Everyone knows about feta and most people love it but not many realize that feta comes in as many varieties as there are towns in Greece, and most of these varieties are named for the region they come from. Most fetas are made from sheep’s milk and have a creamy-smooth texture. Some are made with goat’s milk, which gives them a tangy quality—you’ll even find little wheels of goat feta that are scored from being ripened in small baskets (kalathaki). A few are made with both sheep’s and goat’s milk, combining the qualities of both. If a cheese is labeled as feta but is made with cow’s milk (domestic) it is NOT real feta—it has none of the rich flavor of traditional feta and you should not waste your money!
·Arahova pronounced a-RA-hova (sheep’s milk): semi-firm, sharp, a bit salty, peppery. Great for crumbling in a salad, serving sliced with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and kalamata olives, baking in a pita, and frying (as in saganaki, where feta is sautéed in olive oil, flamed with brandy and sprinkled with lemon juice).
·Bulgarian (sheep’s and/or goat’s milk): semi-firm, tangy, salty. Great in a salad, serving sliced, for baking, and frying.
·Dodoni pronounced tho-THO-nee (sheep’s milk): firm, salty. Great in a salad, serving sliced, for baking, and frying.
·French (sheep’s milk): soft to semi-firm, creamy, mildest of the feta family. This feta is perfect for serving fresh in salads, crumbled in an omelet, or sliced on an appetizer (meze) plate.
Firm, mild, moderately salty
This white cheese comes from Cyprus and has an almost rubbery quality that cuts into perfect slices for frying in saganaki, grilling, or dicing for a salad.
Try this: Cut into 1-inch cubes, brush with olive oil and grill just until grill marks appear. Cool slightly, then skewer with watermelon pieces and mint or basil leaves for a refreshing appetizer.
Note: This is the only cheese that can be frozen without harming its texture or flavor.
(sheep’s milk alone or combined with goat’s milk, made in the regions of Thessalia and Xanthi, and the island of Mitilini, aged over three months)
Semi-firm, yellow, mild, creamy, salty-sweet, nutty
Wonderful as a sliced table cheese, or shredded/diced and tossed with hot pasta. You’ll always find at least two cheeses on a Greek table, feta and kasseri. Kasseri is also the cheese used in Greece to make pizza (but no tomato sauce!).
(sheep’s milk alone, or combined with goat’s milk, aged at least three months)
Hard, sharp, salty, tangy, strong aroma, light yellow
Perfect for grating over pasta or vegetables, in savory pies, or garnishing cooked dishes.
Substitution: a 50-50 mix of high-quality Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano
(sheep’s milk, sometimes combined with a small amount of goat’s milk, aged at least five months)
Semi-hard, firm, sweet, fruity, nutty, mellow, intense aroma
The highest quality Graviera comes from Crete and is served sliced, alone or with appetizers (meze).
(sheep’s milk, sometimes combined with goat’s milk, made in western Greece, aged at least three months)
Hard, salty, nutty
As the name suggests, this cheese is a marriage between Kefalotyri and Graviera and merges the qualities of both to form a cheese ideal for grating over dishes, using in savory pies or making saganaki.
(sheep’s milk alone, or combined with goat’s milk, made in central and western Thessalia)
Semi-soft, sweet, buttery, dense
Similar to feta but creamier and less salty or unsalted, this fresh white cheese is made from the drained whey from feta production. This melt-in-your-mouth cheese can be mixed with herbs and spread on crackers or bread. It can also be served as a dessert drizzled with honey—a favorite in Greece.
Substitution: goat cheese (chèvre)
(sheep’s and/or goat’s milk)
Fresh, unsalted, mild flavor, strong aroma, generally sold in round balls or loose by weight.
A whey cheese made from feta and Kefalotyri by-products, it makes a delicious topper for pastas, pizzas, stews, soups and salads. It’s also used as a filling in pastries and desserts.
If using cow’s-milk ricotta (full fat only),
drain well in a cheesecloth and add a little cream.
DRY MYZITHRA (μυζήθρα ξερή) pronounced mee-ZEE-thrah kseh-REE
(sheep’s and/or goat’s milk)
Air-dried Myzythra, hard, heavily salted
Perfect for grating over pasta and vegetables. In Glifatha in Athens, restaurants sprinkle it over French fries for an unbelievable side dish.
Substitutions: dry-aged ricotta salata (pressed, salted and dried ricotta), Pecorino Romano
If you’re in the New York City area, you can find these Greek cheeses (and more) at the following markets:
25-56 31st Street
Astoria, NY, 11102
Mediterranean Foods (2 locations)
30-12 34th Street
Astoria, NY 11103
22-78 35th Street
Astoria, NY 11105
115 Broadway (RT 107)
Hicksville, NY 11801
If you don’t live near these markets but have a Greek Orthodox church nearby, chances are they know of a Greek/Mediterranean shop in the area.
Online shopping is also an option. Here’s where you can find Greek cheese, as well as other foods and items:
Costco - select locations (Dodoni feta) and from Instacart
I hope you enjoyed our celebration of Cheesefare Week. These cheeses are featured in recipes in our Meze and Spreads & Dips cookbooks, available on Amazon. Next week we enter Great Lent so join us then for more Greek foods and customs as they relate to this period of fasting and prayer.
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Kali orexi! Good appetite!
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