What makes a great cheese? Is it an amazing history? Is it a flavour that makes the hair stand up on your arms? Or is it-perhaps-an organized advertising campaign? Before starting this blog, I would have assumed some combination of the first two- but I am realizing-with some disappointment, that it’s often the advertising that’s really the key.
Some cheeses, like parmigiano-reggiano and Appenzeller have their own organized advocates who ensure that their good name is well represented in the world, and in the world of cheese. These amazing consortiums have websites, rules, regulations, and advertising campaigns. As a result, their cheeses are well-known and dependable. Other cheeses, like today’s Greek Kefalotyri, seem to be virtually un-championed.
I had an extremely challenging time finding out much about kefalotyri, despite the fact that it has been around since at least the 10th century BC. Yes, that’s right-this is a Byzantinian cheese. It is virtually invisible on the ‘net, except as an afterthought or footnote-which is a shame for such a historically important cheese. Although you may have never heard of the Greek favorite, Kefalotyri (because of lack of advertising, no doubt) you have most likely seen it at Greek restaurants served as the dish, Saganaki. Saganaki is made of slices of Kefalotyri covered in egg and bread crumbs and then deep fried and served with lemon. Yup, deep-fried cheese sticks old school style. Kefalotyri also sometimes appears in Spanikopita (spinach Pie) instead of Feta-so we are eating this cheese, but it’s far under our radar.
Greeks love their cheese, and they have been eating it arguably longer than anyone else. I was surprised to learn that the Greeks eat more cheese per capita than anyone else in the world-including Italians and French! Maybe they are too busy eating their cheese to write about it? Who knows? It’s all Greek to me.
The name Kefalotyri comes from Greek word “kefalo” that means hat-as the cheese is roughly hat-shaped. Kefalotyri can be made with sheep’s milk, or a combination of sheep and goat. Either way it is protected by the DOC as a historically important and significant cheese. Not that anyone appears to care. It is traditionally made from raw milk, but pasteurized versions also exist. Kefalotyri is known in Greece as the male cheese as it is made with full-fat milk- as opposed to the female cheeses which are made with whey. Hmmph.
I have been unable to determine exactly where this cheese is made. Is it industrial? Is it farm-made? No one’s talking. Regardless, the milk is heated, curdled, and packed into molds. When it comes out of the molds Kefalotyri is salted, which acts to preserve the cheese and allow it to become firmer. The cheese ages for three to four months before it is sold. A layer of paraffin is applied to the aged cheese to protect it from drying.
Apparently the appearance of kefalotyri varies throughout the year depending on the ratio of sheep to goat’s milk being used. There are no hard and fast rules, it’s kind of however it all works out. At some times of the year, kefalotyri is white, and other seasons it is yellow. In either case, this is a very hard cheese which gets firmer as it ages, forming small interior eyes in the cheese paste.
My little slice of Kefalotyri is full of mystery and legendary tales-if only it could speak! It’s a wan, almost white cheese, so it’s probably more goat, and less sheep. It’s a firm looking cheese with tiny eyes, I can’t see any rind, or paraffin, but maybe that’s was removed at the cheese shop. The smell is very mild, I don’t get any hint of sheep or goat, and would swear this was a cow cheese. Except it isn’t.
Ah, but it is a goat and sheep cheese. That’s now obvious. It’s incredibly salty-the saltiest cheese yet. That makes it challenging to really get to the flavour-except that the goat and sheep tang is also quite predominant. The salt is really over the top. I get that it was historically needed as a preservative, but dial it back a little, people! Maybe it’s also white from all the salt. The texture isn’t really doing anything for me either-it’s quite firm, and refuses to melt in my mouth, it just sits there on my tongue, like a salt lozenge made of goat. Yuck!
OK, Kefalotyri, I have to respect your history, despite your heinous lack of internet presence, (and taste) neither of which is really your fault. Although this isn’t my slice of cheese, I do think it needs a cheese champion. If any Greeks are reading, maybe this is your golden opportunity!