Mizithra cheese is a traditional Greek cheese whose history goes back to the ancient times. The real, true mizithra is produced in Greece, which holds the copyright for the use of the name; in other countries, if a cheese is supposed to be called mizithra, there are very rigid regulations on where and how it is supposed to be made.
Similar to feta, mizithra cheese is a protected name, which means that only if a cheese is produced in a certain way and in a certain region can be named as mizithra. Mizithra from Crete which is famous among cheese lovers, is a completely protected version of mizithra. Don’t be surprised if you are not able to find mizithra cheese in every store – but many super markets and cheese stores have it.
Types of Mizithra
Mizithra is a tasty white cheese and melts in the mouth; if young it has a slightly sweet taste and a very bright white nuance. When completely fresh it has creamy texture. Otherwise, when aging, it’s getting granulated and creamier in color, and when really aged, it’s hard and it can be shaped. Greeks usually make it in balls or a cylindrical shape. The flavor could be also a little tangy, depending on what time of the year the cheese is made. When it has tangy and sour distinctive taste, it’s called xinomizithra, which is very popular in western Crete.
Xinomizithra is the typical type of mizithra found in west Crete. The aged one is hard, salty cheese and the very young one is known as anthotyros. All types of this cheese are moist – except for the most aged one which is completely dry and it goes well with spaghetti.
This unique cheese, Greeks make of unpasteurized goat or sheep milk, and combine it with the so called cheese milk (tyrogalo in Greek), actually a whey from feta or kefalotiri cheeses. Mizithra is known as the ancestor of whey cheeses. The process of making requires air-drying, and once upon a time it was put in small pockets of muslin and hang on trees close to the sea. It all together gives mizithra a particular flavor which some people could have a hard time to get used to.
Mizithra in Crete
It may be funny to see the same words with a different meaning within the same island, but that happens in Crete. In Western Crete, in Chania for instance, if you ask for anthotiros you will be given the fresh, sweet mizithra, while the taste of mizithra in Chania is sour.
On the contrary, in Eastern Crete, i.e. in Heraklion, mizithra is the fresh, soft not sour cheese, while anthotiros is the old, dry mizithra cheese. Anthotiro is salty and is eaten plain with bread and olives, or grinded over pasta. Pasta boiled in meat broth, with grinded anthotiro on top is one of the most typical dishes in weddings.
How to eat mizithra
Greeks simply adore their mizithra and have different ways of savoring it. They eat fresh mizithra for breakfast or dessert, only with thyme honey or with some fresh fruit added to honey. This cheese is also a common light meze consumed with olives, fresh tomatoes, basil, and of course bread. The more aged the better it goes with ouzo or the less famous Greek retsina! It’s very much used for salad or pasta toppings, either crumbled or grated. Simple pasta with cooked tomatoes and fresh basil, if topped with mizithra, opens you to a completely new taste dimension.
If you cannot find mizithra….
Although mizithra is exported and available delicatessen stores, if you have a hard time finding it, you can use the following cheeses as alternatives:
For the fresh myzithra: mascarpone or ricotta
For the aged myzithra: kefalotyri, parmesan, and pecorino romano.