Greek Cheese, more commonly recognized by its capital city of Athens, is one of the most distinctive and popular cheeses in the world. Due to the country’s rugged, hilly terrain being inhospitable to larger dairy farms, most Greek Cheese produced is made of goat’s or sheep’s milk. The best Greek cheese is often aged in barrels of vinegar and then transferred to wooden platters, creating a flavor unmatched by other types of cheese. Greek Cheese making, therefore, is an easier method for an average Greek farmer to earn a living, since Greek cheese is relatively inexpensive and maintains superior to milk.
Among the most famous Greek cheese varieties are: Kourambalis, Plaka, Poulanthus, and Famagusta. All of these are available at the grocery store or you can order them online, usually for delivery within three days. Some varieties that are less well known are: Demokrana, Gavrieli, Stamikos, and Stroussos. These cheeses were historically grown on private farms only, but are now widely cultivated in commercial farms in Greece. Each of these cheeses has its own distinctive taste and characteristic smell.
Traditionally, Greek cheese making begins with pressing the curds from the sheep’s or goat’s milk, although nowadays you will find that mills and automatic dispensers are used. All the liquid whey, fat, acid, salt and bacteria are filtered to remove excess liquid before it is mixed with cereals or flour (sometimes rice) and yeast for rising. The rennet, which is a liquid mixture of the enzymes that break down the muscle tissue, is added at the end of the fermentation process. When the mixture is done, it is then covered in wooden shakers and allowed to ferment overnight.
The next day, the cheese is removed from the wooden shakers and left to mature. During this time, the rennet coagulates, turning into a lumpy mass that hardens into a foam. When it has fully matured, it is removed from the cheese cloth and allowed to dry. At this point, another type of cheese, known as kefalotyri, comes about. This cheese is made with a different rennet but contains a different blend of bacteria, which gives it a unique flavor. Traditionally, kefalotyri was eaten with the same bread as kefalotyri, but today many people add it to fruit or vegetable salads or mixed with olive oil for a delicious and sumptuous meal.
Goat cheese is made from the milk of a young goat. The milk is curdled and allowed to cool, then the curds are separated into two sections. The leftover goat milk can be used for making soft cheese, which is popular in Greece and Italy; and the right over milk can be used for making goat cheese pie. The resulting cheese mixture is then kneaded very slightly, rolled in breadcrumbs and left to dry. It takes around three months for this cheese to become usable as a pizza topping, but the longer it is left to age, the better it becomes.
The third cheese on the list is called tzatziki, which means “little cheese”. It is produced from sheep’s milk, but it is not lactose-free. The cheese is pressed from the sheep’s stomach, then soaked in brine and left to ferment. As the cheese ages, the rennet inside starts to form into stringy fibers, then turning into a pale-yellow cheese. This cheese is not well suited to baking, but it is an excellent alternative for grilled sandwiches and meat dishes.
The last cheese on the list, called kasseri, comes from the kebab region of the Middle East. This cheese is not technically Greek but has the same tart taste and smell of Greek yogurt. The cheese itself is pressed from the kebab, then dried and shaped into a conical shape. Kasseri is a favorite ingredient of Middle Eastern cuisine, although it can also be found in other cuisines all over the world.
Although the methods listed above are the most common types of Greek cheese, there are other options. Some cheeses, such as rinds, are made by using the milk of live, lactating women in their country of origin. Other cheeses, such as malaria, are made from sheep that have been fed throughout the year. Dairy cheese is also created from rennet obtained from the stomachs of pregnant ewes, or sheep that are calving. However, none of these cheeses, including kasseri and tzatziki, are officially considered true greek because they are technically not from the country of Greece.