CRETAN FOOD

Graviera: 3 Simple Tasteful Cretan Cheese Recipes

graviera

Picture yourself on a sun-kissed terrace overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean. The air is fragrant with the mingling scents of olive groves, wild herbs, and the distant sea. As you sip on a glass of local wine, a plate of golden, melt-in-your-mouth cheese arrives. This is graviera, the flagship cheese of Crete.

graviera

What is Graviera Cheese?

A hard-textured Cretan cheese made from local sheep’s milk (sometimes blended with local goat’s milk) which is aged for several months. It’s a yellow cheese of rich aroma with a strong savory flavor. It can be consumed as a table cheese after maturation for at least 3 months and it becomes peppery as it ages for 12 months. A distinct variety of cheese that is a staple in Cretan cuisine, and its versatility makes it the star of countless traditional dishes.

Graviera is also consumed fried in saganaki with a squeeze of lemon, in salads and in Cretan cheese pies. When added grated over pasta dishes it adds a wonderful flavour. A favorite combination when it’s served as a table cheese is with a splash of Cretan honey on top. To create a perfect Cretan cheeseboard serve these tasteful cheese bites accompanied with figs (fresh or dried), Cretan olives and Cretan rusks.

Crete counts 14 cheese varieties and 4 of them are listed as products of protected designation of origin (PDO):

  • Graviera Kritis
  • Xinomizithra Kritis
  • Xygalo Sitias
  • Pichtogalo Chanion

In fact, the island has the most PDO cheese varieties in Greece! But why Cheese in Crete is of superior quality? Crete is not just a large island, it gives the feeling of a whole continent. Here, the landscape is full of mountains where goats and sheeps freely graze.

Crete counts more than 1.600 different kinds of plants and wild herbs and almost 170 of them are endemic, which means that they grow only in Crete.

graviera cheese bites

 

The Perfect Cretan Cheese for Saganaki

Graviera belongs to the cheese varieties that melt nicely giving a creamy texture when used in cooking. A cheese of hard texture fried to perfection until crisp on the outside, served with a slice of lemon. And the melted cheese marries itself with the juices of lemon. In Crete, a favorite pairing is to taste graviera with a fig or tomato chutney (jam). The savory flavor of this Cretan cheese pairs excellently with the sweetness of the figs and tomatoes. Saganaki is a classic starter dish that everyone loves.

The Graviera Cheese Recipes

1. Saganaki: A Delicious Cheesy Appetizer

Graviera cheese of Crete

 

 

This recipe is for 2 portions if it’s served as an appetizer

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

 

What you need

  • 150g graviera cheese (or feta cheese)
  • 50g plain flour
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to fry the graviera
  • Juice of 1 lemon

 

 Cooking Steps

  1. Cut a square piece of cheese, about 1.5cm thick.
  2. Wet the graviera well with water. Place the cheese on a plate with the flour and coat on all sides.
  3. Preheat enough olive oil to pan-fry the cheese. We don’t want the olive oil to cover the cheese.
  4. Fry the cheese over medium heat until it turns golden brown.
  5. Place the fried cheese on a plate with kitchen paper on the bottom to absorb the remaining oil.
  6. Squeeze some lemon over the cheese and enjoy the crispy texture while it’s still warm.

 

Tips & Hacks

Saganaki is a delicious fried cheese meze. You can also pour some Cretan honey over the fried cheese and sprinkle with sesame seeds (black and white) for extra flavour.

 

2. The Cretan Baked Potatoes (Oftes) Served with Grated Graviera

Graviera cheese 1

 

This recipe is for 4 portions if it’s served as an appetizer

Cooking Time: 1 hour

 

What you need

  • 8 small potatoes Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Oregano or thyme, to taste
  • Grated Cretan graviera cheese or crumbled feta cheese, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch of sweet paprika, to garnish (optional)

 

For the yoghurt sauce (optional):

  • 1 cup strained yoghurt (200g)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Cretan honey
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Cooking Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C fan (220°C/425°F).
  2. Wash the potatoes and wipe them with a clean kitchen towel.
  3. Season well with salt. There is no need to peel the potatoes.
  4. Wrap each potato in foil and place them all together in a baking pan.
  5. Bake for about 1 hour.
  6. Remove the foil from the potatoes and gently cut them in half.
  7. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano or thyme.
  8. Top the potatoes with the grated graviera cheese. While the potatoes are still warm, the cheese melts easily. Alternatively, just serve them with olive oil. Optionally, if you add grated graviera cheese, wrap the potatoes again in foil and bake for 5-10 minutes. Graviera cheese melts well when added to food.
  9. For the yoghurt sauce, just mix all the ingredients in a bowl and add this fresh light sauce over the potatoes.
  10. Sprinkle with some sweet paprika.

 

Tips & Hacks

This baking method (oftes) gives the potatoes a soft texture and smoked flavour. In Crete, these types of baked potatoes are often served as an appetizer (meze) to accompany tsikoudia (Cretan spirit drink).

 

3. Crisp Green Salad with Avocado, Figs and Graviera Cheese

graviera cheese 2

 

This recipe is for 2 portions if it’s served as an appetizer

Cooking Time: 1o minutes

 

What you need

  • 5-6 lettuce leaves
  • 2 fresh or dried figs, cut into thin slices
  • 1 avocado, cut into thin slices
  • Graviera cheese, grated into large slices or cut into thin slices (you can use any hard-textured cheese with a savoury flavour)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Cretan carob syrup (charoupomelo) or Cretan grape syrup (petimezi) (you can also use 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar)

 

You could also combine the following ingredients for a dressing which pairs wonderfully with this salad:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice and zest from 1 orange
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Cretan honey
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Cooking Steps

  1. Cut the lettuce leaves in a large bowl. Make sure to wash the lettuce well with water and dry it thoroughly.
  2. Add the figs, avocado, and graviera cheese. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil with the Cretan carob syrup.
  4. Pour 2/3 of the dressing over the salad and stir well using your hands. Its more convenient to toss all the salad ingredients with your hands to control the quantity of the dressing. We dont want the salad to be drowned in dressing. Check if you need to add more dressing. Make sure you add the dressing to the salad at the last minute to keep the crunchy texture of the lettuce.

 

Tips & Hacks

A fresh and flavourful light meal that can also be served as a starter dish. In Crete, the combination of cheese with figs, either fresh or dried, is a favourite. The sweetness from the figs pairs excellently with the savoury flavour of this distinct Cretan cheese.

graviera cheese from Crete

Is graviera cheese similar to other types of cheese?

While this cheese variety shares some similarities with cheeses like Gruyère and Emmental, its unique flavor profile and production process set it apart as a distinct cheese variety. In some Greek and Cretan recipes it can be replaced with feta cheese which also melts nicely when used in cooking. In the making of saganaki, graviera is fried to perfection until crisp on the outside, with a slice of lemon.

 

Have a better insight into the distinct cheese varieties produced in Greece. Explore the cheesemaking map of Greece and read more about the cheese varieties of protected designation of origin (PDO) produced only in designated areas in Greece.

 

Hungry for more Cretan delights? Dive into our digital Cretan cookbook and learn how to cook the Cretan way from scratch. Explore the real Cretan cuisine of everyday life cooking 50+ simple tasteful Cretan recipes. Cretan cuisine relies on minimal cooking preparations, simple ingredients and distinct flavors. Cook many different meals from the comfort of your home and bring the real flavors of Crete at your table.