The production of outstanding quality cheese of various types is another great hidden asset of the Cretan culinary culture. Only few people outside Greece know that Crete (especially in its western and central part) has hundreds, mostly artisanal cheeseries. They make use of local sheep and goat milk, to produce a fantastic variety of cheeses, both fresh and aged.
The most common Cretan fresh cheese is “mizithra”, the Cretan version of ricotta, made out of sheep milk. Cretans eat mizithra regularly and combine it with almost any dish; they have it for breakfast (sometimes topped with honey), with their lunch and their dinner alike. Note that fresh cheese, such as mizithra, is healthier than other forms of cheese in addition to the protein, calcium and vitamins has lower fat content and is more diet friendly. Mizithra can be also dried up and aged at different degrees, producing another type of cheese called “tirozouli” or “anthotiros”.
Another Cretan classic is the “graviera” cheese, a hard cheese made also of sheep milk. Note that there is a lighter version of graviera made of goat milk. Graviera is produced differently from mizithra with the use of rennet (“pitia”). Weight is applied on the cheese curds to extract as much whey as possible before storing it for ageing of about 3 months. The Cretan repertoire features several other very interesting cheeses such as the hard and salty “toulomotiri”, the soft and sour “ksinomizithra” and the milky “ksigalo” (from eastern Crete) only to name a few.
Cretans are true cheese lovers and consume cheese at all occasions. Although cheese is considered by some not the healthiest nutrition, Cretan cheese is made of sheep and goat milk which make it far healthier than usual cheese. Note also that Cretans eat healthier fresh cheese, such as mizithra or xinomizithra, as regularly (if not more) than fattier hard cheese.