While they’re not difficult to make, they do require a certain amount of skill. They have a short shelf life, are white in color, and a mild, milky taste. Tender, fresh, springtime cheeses are made with the first milk of spring, which has a higher fat content and more nutrients than in other seasons because it’s the time when animals, which have begun to produce offspring, lactate and, in the case of free range animals, have access to lush, rich pastures.
Fresh cheeses that are made from this rich milk have a pungent, herbal aroma, are thick in texture and sweet on the palate. They are primarily used in cooking, sometimes in baking, but rarely served on their own because of their milder, less sharp flavor when compared to aged cheeses such as graviera, feta and kaseri.
Spring is the time when cheeses like anthotiro, mizithra and xinomizithra, xinotiro, creamy galotyri, tsalafoutia and other soft cheeses are in full bloom. They can be enjoyed cold or preferably at room temperature, when their rich sweet milk and mild taste are at their most intense.
Xigalo from Siteia, Crete, a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese
This spreadable cheese, produced by the Kouvarakis cheesery in Crete, is made from a mixture of Siteian sheep and goat’s milk. Its distinct taste makes it a fan favorite: a creamy but slightly granular cheese with an acidic, milky taste and just the right amount of salt that pinches the palate. It can also be used in baking, but I personally wouldn’t sacrifice it in intricate recipes where its delicate taste would be lost. I do what the Cretans do (because they know this cheese better than I do!). I serve it with dolmadakia (stuffed grape-leaves) or gemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) instead of yoghurt or a sauce, I use it to top off Greek salads and spread it over French fries. And, of course, I enjoy it plain with fresh bread, a handful of olives, and a glass of retsina wine.
Traditional Green Market, 6-8 28th Oktovriou Square, Ilioupoli, Tel. (+30) 210.995.4500; 31 Proklou, Pagrati, Tel. (+30) 210.756.0055
Nora’s deli, 11 Anagnostopoulou, Kolonaki, Tel. (+30) 210.729.0500; 10 Anapiron Polemou, Kolonaki, Tel. (+30) 210.729.0500
Chalkiadiakis, 68 Anrea Papandreou & Papanikoli Dimitriou, Chalandri, Tel. (+30) 210.689.3495
Mandragoras, 14 Dim. Gounari, Piraeus, Tel. (+30) 210.417.2961
Semi-fresh volaki from Andros
This small piece of Cycladic heaven comes in a cylindrical shape. Volaki is a semi-fresh cheese is made from cow’s milk and is produced by the Louvari – Politou cheesery in Andros. It has a full-bodied, aged taste that sticks to your palate, is lightly salted and pleasantly acidic, and punctuated with hints of the herbs the animals graze on. It’s best combined with fresh, unsalted almonds, fresh strawberries and coarse-grained salt, with fresh bread and a glass of sweet wine.
Deka Trofima, 22 Anagyrontos, Vari, Tel. (+30) 210.965.4610
Topon Gefseis, 18 Ethn. Antistaseos, Ermoupoli, Syros, Tel. (+30) 22810.80.100
Anthotyro from Lesvos
This delicious cheese is delivered every Wednesday, straight from production to consumption, directly from The Vardaxis Farm in Filia, Lesvos, to the greengrocery Peri Lesvou on Athinas Street, downtown Athens. I know a lot of people who buy two and even three blocks of this cheese at a time so they don’t run out. This non-acidic, unsalted cheese has a thick texture and a full-bodied taste, with a strong milk aroma that penetrates the packaging even before you open it. Try it as a savoury addition to your breakfast, with a drizzle of honey. Perfect.
Peri Lesvou, 27 Athinas & Protogenous, Monastiraki, Tel. (+30) 210.323.3227; 2 Proskopon Aidiniou, Nea Smyrni, Tel. (+30) 213.010.2471
Xinotyro from Skyros
Xinotyro is a thick, succulent cheese with a creamy texture that fills the mouth due to its acidity and balanced saltiness. Made in Skyros by local cheesemaker Dimitris Mavrikos, you can find it in Athens at the greengrocery of Efthimios Alexandris in the suburb of Ilioupoli. It goes well with quince cheese and fresh walnuts. Serve it on a white plate and garnish it with fresh spring herbs to enhance its appeal, while a bottle of tsipouro complements its sweet and sour taste.
Alexandris, 3 Iroon Polytechneiou, Ilioupoli, Athens, Tel. (+30) 210.991.8730
Xinomyzithra from Milos
This is a whey cheese from Milos which, when served with fresh, small strawberries, cherries and, in a few months, greengages, is positively ambrosial. This creamy goat cheese, made by the Avgoustis – Charalabakis cheesery in Milos, has a smooth, full-bodied taste, and is low in acidity and salt. It’s also spreadable, with a subtle goat’s aroma and a tinge of herbs. A generous spoonful of xynomyzithra in the cavity of a small Cretan avocado makes for a heavenly breakfast, unlike any you have ever had. Xinomyzithra is also ideal for cheese pastries, from cheesecakes to traditional honey pies.
Ta Karamanlidika tou Fani, 1 Sokratous & Evripidou; 119 Ermou, Tel. (+30) 210.325.4184
Galomyzithra and anthotyro from Hania, Crete
Manousos Tsitsirides – a leading cheesemaker and recipient of a quality award from the prestigious periodical Gastronomos – produces some exquisite cheeses that embody all that is naturally good about Hania. Made from 100% sheep’s milk and high in fat content, Tsitsirides produces a mildly salted, creamy galomyzithra with a full-bodied flavor, as well as an eclectic, sweet tasting anthotyro, with an intense aroma. Ideal for breakfast or dinner, anthotyro is best enjoyed plain with rusks, honey and bee pollen.
This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.
Manouta, 1 Sokratous & Evripidou, Athens, Tel. (+30) 210.325.4184; 119 Ermou, Monastiraki, Tel. (+30) 210.321.9119