If you are passionate about cheese tasting you will definitely discover a gastronomic paradise on the island of Crete. There is no better way to explore the island than wandering around the most traditionally oriented places while enjoying a plethora of regional cheese varieties.
But what particular types of cheese can be found in Crete? Read everything you need to know and prepare for the best food experiences.
“The fertile soil in Crete makes wines of superb quality and distinctive aromas.”
Cretan cheese varieties
Around 14 different types of cheese can be found on the island today. In Rethymno, which has the longest tradition in cheese making, most of the modern dairy farms are located in the area between Mylopotamos and Amari.
Three Cretan cheeses are listed among the best regional products worldwide according to World Atlas Taste: Xinomizithra (a creamy cheese with a distinctive savory flavor), graviera cheese (a hard cheese with a slightly piquant flavor) and anthotyro cheese (a soft white cheese rich in flavor).
Taste Atlas is an encyclopaedia of gastronomic experiences in which travelers from all around the world share their impressions through their exciting adventures.
The region of Rethymno plays a significant role in husbandry and livestock production, providing the whole Crete with exceptional varieties of cheese. Cretan cheese is basically made from local sheep or goat milk.
When you visit Rethymno you will have the opportunity to taste even different varieties of mizithra cheese, such as galomizithra, xinomizithra and fresh mizithra.
Rethymno offers, among other Cretan cheese varieties, different kinds of soft white cheese (feta cheese type) made from local sheep or goat milk. Rethymno has an intensive livestock farming tradition due to the fertile soil of the area. A land of dense vegetation covered with wild herbs and plants with plenty of goats and sheep grazing freely in the mountains.
Besides mizithra cheese, it is really worth tasting some of the best Cretan cheese varieties that Crete offers, which are unlikely to be found in other regions of Greece.
Some examples are the xygalo of Sitia (Lasithi region), a creamy white cheese with a particular sour taste, is a product of protected designation of origin (PDO), tyrozouli from the region of Rethymno, a uniquely flavored semi-hard cheese and pihtogalo, a creamy cheese from Chania, which is also a PDO product.
The distinctive flavors of the Cretan cheese products come from animals that graze freely in the mountains. And the Cretan land is rich in aromatic wild herbs and plants. Graviera Kritis is among the Greek cheeses with protected designation of origin (PDO).
It is a cheese of hard texture with a distinctive savory flavor. It’s basically made from local sheep milk. Graviera cheese is perfectly paired with a bit of Cretan honey on top. It is commonly used in Cretan cooking because it is a cheese that melts nicely, providing a rich flavor. But it is also used in the making of saganaki (fried graviera cheese).
And if you’re looking for original rich flavors, you should taste an aged graviera cheese with a glass of good red dry Cretan wine (the “kotsifali” Cretan grape variety is an excellent combination).
“One of the most common food pairings is graviera cheese with Cretan honey on top.”
A traditional Cretan cheese to taste in a variety of Cretan recipes and it’s one of the finest Cretan products. Fresh mizithra cheese is of soft texture, with a mild delicate flavor, when used in salads (dakos salad, Cretan salad etc) and cheese pies (mizithropita).
The sweet version of mizithra cheese is regularly used in making pastry delicacies (kalitsounia). Kalitsounia filled with sweet mizithra cheese come in two different forms: square-shaped with the filling enclosed in the pastry (anevata) or rounded star-shaped with the filling at the center (lihnarakia). Learn more about this local sweet Cretan delicacy (link)!
Galomizithra is a soft creamy cheese made from goat milk and used to make Cretan dakos salad (dakotyri). It has a mild delicate flavor and it gives a nice creamy texture when added to warm pasta and salads.
The simplest way to enjoy the delicate flavor of mizithra cheese is on Cretan rusk, accompanied by a glass of good white Cretan wine (the “vidiano” Cretan grape variety with its fruity aromas is a perfect match).
Like graviera cheese, kefalotyri cheese belongs to the hard-textured cheeses giving a strong savory flavor when used in Cretan recipes. Cheesemakers in Crete basically use local sheep milk for its making. Kefalotyri melts nicely, being a full-fat cheese but it’s also used grated on various Cretan dishes.
Kefalotyri cheese grabs you with its rich spicy flavor and the best way to enjoy it is grated on traditional Cretan pasta.
The hard in texture dry anthotyro cheese is a Cretan trademark. The main difference between mizithra cheese and anthotyro cheese is that cheesemakers use exclusively local goat and sheep milk in the making of the latter. Mizithra cheese contains also cow’s milk, which gives the cheese a milder flavor.
Anthotyro cheese stands out for the savory and richly aromatic flavor. It is in fact fresh anthotyro cheese that has been left to dry and harden. It is a cheese of exquisite quality and distinctive aromas. That’s why it is commonly served as a table cheese on a typical Cretan cheeseboard.
There is no better way to taste the dry anthotyro cheese than grating it over handmade Cretan pasta (skioufihta, hylopites). That’s how you’ll taste the real flavor of the cheese and pasta. It’s probably the humblest Cretan recipe to taste.
Xygalo is a distinct creamy cheese from Sitia in the region of Lasithi. It’s recognized as a product of protected designation of origin (PDO) and that’s why it can be produced only in Sitia.
It has a strong sour flavor and it’s also used in the making of a Cretan type of pasta called “xinohondros trahanas” (wheat grains made from sour milk). Xygalo is a real Cretan delicacy!
It’s commonly served along with other rakomezedes (a variety of dishes in small portions) to accompany the Cretan raki spirit drink. Locals love to add it on top of fried potatoes and on top of the Cretan dakos salad.
Cretan cheese and wine pairings
Crete is the largest and southernmost Greek island. Discover wines of protected geographical indication (PGI) in the four districts of the island: Lasithi, Rethymno, Heraklion and Chania. The mild Mediterranean climate is ideal for the cultivation of Cretan grapes in vineyards.
A proper cheeseboard with Cretan wine bites includes a selection of Cretan cheeses along with the Cretan smoked pork (apaki), Cretan rusk and grapes or figs (fresh or dried).
The savory flavor of the cheese pairs so well with the sweetness of the fruit. Adding some Cretan honey on top of the cheese is one of a favorite taste pairing in Crete. Another tasting coupling is grape molasses (petimezi), with its distinctive sweetness, on top of graviera cheese. A selection of Cretan rusks, especially the Cretan carob rusk, is the perfect addition for a nice cheeseboard.
What could be more enjoyable than accompanying cheese with wine? In Crete, you will definitely get to have unique food experiences. Visit the best wine producers in the regions of Rethymno and Lasithi and you’ll be sure to fully enjoy the tasting of both wine and of Cretan cheese varieties.
Discover the best locations to taste Cretan cheese delicacies and excellent quality local wine varieties.
Cretans love drinking wine and eating cheese on a daily basis. They always like to accompany their food with cheese, mostly mizithra or anthotyro cheese, and they, also, prefer to combine food with a glass of good Cretan wine. Bread, rusk, Cretan cheese and wine are all part of a typical Cretan meal.
“Cretan yoghurt has a special place in the making of savory and sweet delicacies.”
Cretan Cheese and food pairings
Cheese pairs so well with honey on top and local people in Crete love this tasty combination. One of the most common pairings is graviera cheese with thyme honey on top. Also, “mizithropita”, a traditional simple Cretan pie stuffed with mizithra cheese, easily becomes a great dessert when you drizzle it with some Cretan honey on top.
Cretan yoghurt has a special place in the making of savory and sweet delicacies. Locals love using yoghurt while cooking with it or adding it to their dishes. But most of all, they love pairing yoghurt with honey. That’s a classic combination which makes a great healthy dessert. It is definitely worth tasting the fresh traditional yoghurt made from goat or sheep milk.
And also, the fresh creamy “puddings” with vanilla or chocolate, and the delicious Cretan rice pudding made from sheep milk sprinkled with cinnamon (rizogalo).
In Lasithi, the easternmost region of Crete, a popular combination of food is that of fried potatoes served with xygalo cheese from Sitia (a product of protected designation of origin).
Xygalo holds a distinguished place among other Greek cheese products, and visiting Lasithi is a great opportunity to taste it. In the region of Lasithi, local cheese producers make “xinohondros trahanas” (a type of Cretan pasta made from wheat grains and sour milk) adding xygalo cheese which gives it its characteristic savory flavor.
Staka (locals also call this cheese anthogalo) is a type of creamy cheese, rich in taste, which really makes a perfect match served on top of fried potatoes and fried eggs. It has a quite liquid texture and that’s why it’s considered to be half-cheese, half-butter. Stakovoutiro, on the other hand, is a type of Cretan butter commonly used in the making of the popular Cretan rice pilaf (gamopilafo).
A top destination for foodies
Travel to Crete and taste the proper Cretan cheeseboard. Also meet the people behind the finest Cretan products by visiting organic farms. It’s a unique opportunity to taste regional Cretan products in the natural environment where they are cultivated and grown.
If you are a passionate food traveler, then the best way to explore the real Cretan cuisine is through exciting gastronomic experiences, visiting local restaurants and local producers. And that’s how you will taste the best Cretan food.
Wander around Rethymno and Lasithi prefectures (2 of the 4 prefectures in Crete) and explore, at your own pace, the culinary culture of the island. To taste the real Cretan cuisine, visit local restaurants that grow their own goods and support local producers. Read more about the local food guides provided by Taste the local Crete.
Bring the real culinary culture of Crete at your table and prepare simple homemade meals with the Daily Cretan Cuisine eBook. Get your first 7 Cretan recipes for free!