Cheese(s!) of the month June 2014: Graviera, Xinotyri and Anthotyra from Naxos/Greece

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If I tell you that I’m writing this in Athens, looking at the Acropolis, on the last day of my first ever trip to Greece, you’ll easily guess where my cheese of the month is coming from this time. In fact, it is not one, but three, as my food-writing colleague Aglaia Kremezi and her husband Costas Maraitis collected an amazing selection of artisanal cheeses from their home country for an extensive tasting and I just could not settle on a single one.

Naxos KäseMany of my favourites came from one producer, Koufopoulos on the island of Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. Whereas generally Greek artisanal cheeses (which much as in other countries have seen a revival recently) tend to be made from sheeps’ and goats’ milk, which are traditionally kept and milked together, Naxos is also home to cows. I really liked the 3 years old Graviera Naxou, a thick large wheel of approximately 15kg, made from a mixture of all three kinds of milk: its sweetness was balanced by a slow savoury punch, the texture almost like soft marzipan, interspersed with some crystals (the Greek name Graviera, which is used for all kinds of remotely alpine-like hard cheeses, originally derived from Swiss Gruyère).

Koufopoulos’ fresh Xinotyri (up on the left in my picture) made from sheeps’ and goats’ milk was all softness, like a cuddly warm woolen blanket on a fresh summer night, and witness to how carefully this producer obviously handles the milk. The most unusual of my three favourites was an aged Anthotyra. This term designates cheeses made from whey. Basically similar to Ricotta they tend to be rather firmer, and drained in small reed-woven baskets. Also, there seems to be a tradition to age these cheeses, something I had never tasted before. It was a revelation: its texture of this reminded me of a softer type of Geitost, the caramelized goats’ whey cheese from Norway. Its saltiness (Greeks typically eat their cheese on salads, with rice and vegetable dishes, or with honey, so expect a rather salty cheese) was balanced by the whey’s sweetness. It was totally delicious and intriguing, like a savoury kind of chocolate truffle. There can be no question about this: I have to go to Naxos. Soon. For cheese!

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