Cheese is consumed in Crete at any hour of the day – morn to midnight: as an accompaniment or as the main ingredient, as appetizer or for dessert.
At a formal gathering or the family table, no Cretan meal is complete without its cheese. Superior gourmands will take their watermelon with feta, their honeydew with graviera and consume mizithra with honey!
Ade from a mix of whey and fresh milk from sheep or goat, it coheres into a mass, with a high liquid content at 70%, and is only slightly salty; as it dries (with time and the addition of salt) it hardens. When fully dry it has a fat content of at least 65%: high! When ripe the exterior looks as if it has had ash thrown on it. The word for ash (athos) may contribute to its name; others derive the name from Anthos, as the flower of the cheese. It is most suitable grated onto a pasta dish, like spaghetti.
A very simple form of cheese: the milk is spiked by a natural agent which curdles it. It is produced mostly for household consumption, being less suited for transport to the market. Galomizithra has the same texture and taste as Chaniot mizithra, or Cretan sour-cheese (xinomizithra): very tasty, with a gentle sourness to it – ideal for a dakos!
Often made from goats’ milk, yet the best quality is from sheep’s alone. It is rich, full of butter and milk proteins: 38% moisture, 38.4% fat and 1.5% salt. With a strong taste and slightly salty, it has something of a cheddar to it – to British tastes. A wheel may weigh anything between 5 to 25 kilos! It can be eaten just by itself, with fruit or bread, cooked in pies and other dishes, and as saganaki (breaded and fried).
Pichtogalo of Chania
A simple, everyday cheese from the Chania region: it resembles yoghurt in texture and has a slightly sharp taste, It can be made from sheep’s milk, or a mix of that and goat, Fresh, it has a moisture content of 65%, when dry its fat levels are 50%, protein 16-20% and salt 1%. Eaten by itself, or cooked in pies (bougatsa à la Chania).
A solid and compact cheese, of a darker yellow colour, produced in many parts of Greece from sheep’s’ milk or a mix of sheep and goat. Its moisture is low at 38%, with only 40% fat and sufficiency of salt. The flavour is salty, strong – even piquant, and somewhat fatty. Perfect for grating onto pasta.
Malaka/Soft of Chania
This is a curd, the first step in making a graviera. Malleable, well-mixed – and excellent for pies. Especially the Chaniot tourta – with its filling of cheeses, lamb-meat and spearmint.
A pan-Greek cheese, produced from the whey of any other cheese production. To the whey is added fresh milk; the whole then reheated in a pot, producing a soft and fresh cheese with a neutral note. Fresh, it is high in fat and so should be eaten in moderation, if dieting. It is also full of moisture, up to 70%; even dry it contains 50% fat. In confectionery, it fills small sweet pies. With fruit it is an excellent companion to fresh fruit; and works equally well as an appetizer or as a dessert with a dribble of honey.
Xigala from Sitia
A creamy textured cheese only found in east Crete. Its taste recalls that of xinomizithra and Pichtogalo Chanion: rich, slightly sharp and fresh,
Exclusively a Cretan product: whey is mixed with fresh milk (a mix of sheep and goat) and left for 24 hours in a naturally warm environment to sour or ‘turn’. It has some 50% moisture, only 23% fat, 15% protein and 2% salt. Most suitable for pies – and dieting.
Somewhere between cheese and yoghurt – a rather different dairy product. The top of the milk when freshly drawn is collected and lightly salted. When enough has been got, it is warmed over a low heat for several hours – to it is added a little flour, which separates out the protein from the fat content. The fat is skimmed off and kept separate: this is the famed stakovoutouro, and can be treated just like butter. The thick mass of protein is the staka proper: cook eggs with it, eat on spaghetti, pilafi – or in pies.
A traditional cheese from sheep and goat milk: boiled, coagulated by adding an acid/vinegar – or the juice of figs in stead of rennet. Lightly salted, or not at all, with a malleable consistency.
Source: Cretan Quality Agreement