Most of us think about feta when it comes to Greek cheese. And it is Greece’s most popular cheese. According to Greek myth, Aristaeus, the son of Apollo, learned how to make cheese from the nymphs, and later taught mere mortals the gift of cheese making. But we do know that Greek cheese has been around since the 8th century BC.
Cheese remains an integral part of Greek diet and cuisine. Nearly every meal, from morning to night, and from appetizer to dessert may contain cheese, or at least some dairy. Greece is always near the top of per capita cheese consumption around the world.
Feta has, as most of you already know, a tangy and salty taste, and is a protected designation of origin (POD) product. It is mostly made from sheep’s cheese, and sometimes a small amount of goat cheese. It is then aged in brine filled barrels and or tins. This means real feta is produced only in Greece using traditional methods. And the goat cheese version is milder.
Aside from meze platters and salads, feta can also be used in cheese pies (tyropita), which are quite delicious. Another interesting version is to sauté’ the feta in olive oil, then smothered with veggies as a main dish. And don’t be surprised if feta is on the plate with melons during the summer.
Graviera is another Greek cheese made from goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s milk, or a combination. The flavor can range from sweet and buttery when young, to nutty and spicy when it is aged. Locals say the best is found on Crete, where it takes on a unique roasted caramel taste. But graviera can also be used in baked dishes, on charcuterie boards, and in a Greek favorite, saganaki, which is lightly battered and pan-fried.
Manouri is a semi-soft cheese made from milk whey drained during the production of feta. It is definitely creamier and less salty. It is made only in Macedonia and Thessaly, but can be found on menus throughout Greece.
As far as pairing the cheese with wine, I can only make one recommendation. The house white wines in Greek tavernas are both delicious and inexpensive. The volcanic soil here produces wines are earthy, herbaceous, and quite mineral in nature. They are not soft, but rather tannic and tart. And if you read my emails from Santorini, you know I am not crazy about their signature wine, Assyrtiko. It was very high in mineral content due to the volcanic soil there.
So, there is what is think about Greek cheese and wine. But both are plentiful, inexpensive, and enjoyable.