- Greece is the world’s largest consumer of cheese. It is not exaggeration to say that Greeks eat cheese anytime of the day. They start their morning with a cup of coffee, a slice of bread and a piece of cheese, they eat it in cheese-pies (tyropites) which are the ultimate Greek snack, they use it in salads, in cooking, in baking, they consume it alone or with other foods, they serve it with honey as a type of dessert.
- Almost every village makes its own variety of cheese. Sometimes the same name means a different cheese in different parts of Greece. For example, in Chania (Crete) a fresh, soft, slightly salted goat’s or/and sheep’s whey-cheese is called mizithra, but in the rest parts of Crete, mizithra is the fresh anthotyros, and in mainland Greece mizithra is a dried cheese which is used for grating.
- Most regional Greek cheese is made of sheep’s and/or goat’s milk or a combination of them. The production of cheeses based on cow’s milk is rather little, although there is a tradition of these cheeses in the Cycladic islands. The animal diet, the quality of milk, the pasteurization of milk, the addition of herbs, spices and wood smoke, the aging or not, affect the taste and flavour of cheese.
- Some types of the traditional cheeses are not designated with the lebel of Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC). That does not mean they are of bad quality, but they simply did not achieved the strict standards so they did not pass the specific criterias control.
This recipe is still prepared during the Easter in the Cycladic islands and Crete. It is made under various names: melitinia in Santorini (melitinia < meli = honey), lyhnarakia in Crete (lyhnarakia = little oil lamps, due to their resemblance to ancient, open oil lamps) etc. A good substitute of mizithra cheese is riccota.
1890. Take as much unsalted mizithra you want, knead it with five or six eggs, add a little fine sugar or cinnamon. Knead some dough, in which you have add a little hot butter and one egg, and drive it into a sheet (phyllo) not very thin, which you will cut into circles with a mould or with a wine glass. Take from the cheese mixture as many portions as you need, place them on the round pieces of sheet, turn the edges of pastry inward, form a type of margin in the center of which you see the cheese. Send to the oven. When they will be baked sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon and serve them still warm.
Ladies’ Newspaper (Efimeris ton Kirion), no 162, p. 8.
1910. Cheese pies with mint and almonds (kalitsounia me diosmo kai amygdalo) Take enough sweet mizithra, add 2 small eggs. Coarsely chop some fresh mint and ½ handful of peeled almonds and 5 bitter almonds. Add them to mizithra and mix well. Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl. Add lemon juice, a little raki and as much water is needed. Knead well. Flatten the dough and roll it out into thin sheets, cut them into squares. Place some of the mizithra mixture in the center of each and turn the edges of them inward to cover the filling, just like an envelop. Place them on a buttered baking dish and bake them until well browned.
Maria’s Mazaraki cookbook.
In nowadays the recipe with mizithra and almonds is found only under a sweet version, without dill.
Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists (Cambridge, Mass., 1971).
Dalby A., Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece (London & NY, 1996).
Mamalakis, E. Greek Cheese: Tastes and Recipes (Athens,1999).
Micha – Lampaki, A. H διατροφή των αρχαίων Ελλήνων κατά τους αρχαίους κωμωδιογράφους (Αθήνα, 1984).