Traditional Greek Cheeses vs. Your favorite.
Most Greek cheeses are made from goat or sheep's milk, often mixed together, with the marked exception of 'graviera', which is made with cow's milk. Sheep and goats are much more common in Greece than cows. BTW, Graviera is Greece's answer to Gravure, a French cheese. Graviera Kritis or Graviera from Crete is the best in my experience. Although Gravieras made in other parts of Greece can be very good. Various islands make their own interpretation of Graviera like Syros and Lesbos both with good locally made salty cheeses! Graviera you could grate and put over spagetti or in a cheese omelete for example. You could do that with feta too. Feta and asparagus combined, works well in either situation too. Visit the Greek recipies pages for some more ideas on how to use cheese.
You wont find a great selection of made in Greece Swiss, Brie, Roquefort, Camembert, Cheddar, Munster, Parmesan and a lot of the cheeses you are used to in the US. It will all be imported.
On the other hand, depending on where you go in Greece, you will find traditional styles of Greek cheese and that's what this page is going to give you a crash course in. There are two main places to buy cheese and one is a supermarket, even small ones sell cheese, either deli-style, where you request a weight of cheese from the employee or pre-packed. In larger supermarkets you will be able to find some of the foreign cheeses I mention above. This will vary by supermarket chain such as A & B chain vs. Kritkos Chain.
Many villages pride themselves on their excellent cheeses, the locals making seasonal cheeses from the milk of their own animals, storing the rounds of cheeses (at least the harder ones) on shelves or racks to dry and to season.
Feta cheese has a 6000 year history, during which it has always been made with either sheep and/or goat's milk, and from mountainous areas where the flocks move about from area to area to browse, resulting in a relatively low fat milk, which also combines the flavors of all the various plants on which the animals feed.
A 2002 ruling by the European Commission, whereby only feta produced in Greece can be legally called feta, will be put into force by 2007, despite legal challenges by German and Dutch producers of a cheese they call by this name, their case rejected by the European Court of Justice.
The name means 'head cheese' (left), (kefali being 'head' in Greek). Sometimes this cheese is also called 'arseniko' which means 'masculine'.
It is a cheese made from a mixture of goat and sheep's milk, and, though eaten fresh as well, is known for its excellent flavor when fully hardened, which takes a good many months.
It is usually kefalotiri that is fried for the delicious dish known as 'saganaki' (not to be confused with a red cheesy sauce of the same name, or with some Japanese word of farewell).
Also made from combined goat and sheep milk, this cheese is often available in both sweet and slightly sour varieties, the latter often soft, to be spread on bread.
The sweet fresh mizythra is usually hardened to the point that it can be sliced, but is still relatively soft, and has a lovely, delicate flavor. It is also cheaper than the cheese that need to be aged longer.
Kaseri. (left), manouri (a soft cheese from northern Greece made with sheep's milk), xinotiro (a sour semi hard or hard cheese made with goat and sheep milk), and anthotiro (which means 'blossom cheese', and is a delicately flavored semi hard cheese made from goat and sheep milk) are a few of the other traditional cheeses found in Greece.
There are often shops that sell mainly dairy products (galaktopoleia) , and though the local cheeses will be more expensive than many of the foreign imported cheeses at the supermarkets, the support of the local product is always a very good contribution of the visitor both to the local economy and to the perpetuation of the traditional product.