A feel a little badly for my review of Kefalotyri yesterday. I kind of picked on that poor cheese- like a school yard bully roughing up a little kid with no older siblings around to protect it. Interestingly, Kefalotryi is actually-almost literally , the big brother of today’s cheese- Mizithra, so no bullying today. Promise.
As we discussed yesterday, Kefalotyri is a traditional Grecian cheese known as a male cheese as it is made with full-fat milk. Mizithra is the corresponding female cheese, as it is made from the whey of the same cheese-making process. In fact, Mizithra is considered the ancestor of all whey cheeses, yes, whey! When I compare it side by side with Kefalotyri, it has 10% less milk fat, so it’s not just the little sister, it’s the skinny little sister.
Like Kefalotyri, Mizithra is a truly ancient cheese, made since at least the 10th century, BC. Mizithra, also known as Myzithra is a traditional unpasteurized Greek cheese made from sheep, goat or a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. Mizithra is mainly produced on the island of Crete but is also made in other regions of Greece, it is DOC protected, so all Mizithra is Mizithra. Except it isn’t. The name Mizithra can actually refer to three different types of cheese-actually three different ages and stages of the same cheese. Mizithra is enjoyed at each developmental age by the local Greeks, although only the oldest age tends to make it to export.
Mizithra is perhaps the simplest cheese in existence. It is basic cheesemaking at its finest. Milk-either sheep, goat or a combination is brought to a scald and then curdled with the addition of rennet or whey from a previous batch. The curdling can even occur with the addition of something acidic, like vinegar or lemon juice. Once the curds form they are poured into a bag of cheese cloth and then left to drain. Sometimes the whey dripping out is saved to start the next batch of mizithra.
After a few days of dripping, the mizithra has formed into a soft ostrich egg-shaped ball of cheese described as “sweet, fresh and moist.” The cheese is often sold and eaten at this stage, where it is used as a desert cheese due to it’s mild and sweet taste-like a ricotta. Or it moves on to the next stage, the raunchy middle age. At this stage the cheese is rubbed with salt and left to air dry. The longer it ages, the firmer and saltier it becomes. In the olden days it was placed in little bags of cheesecloth and hanged from the trees near the ocean-apparently imparting an “oceany” taste to the cheese. I’m unclear if this still occurs, but I like to think that it does. If the cheese is sold and eaten at this age it is both firm and sour and is known as xynomizithra or sour mizithra. This stage is described as an “acquired taste” with a “sour tangy flavour” and an “unpleasant smell.” Doesn’t that sound fabulous?
If the Mizithra ages even longer (and let’s hope that’s swaying from a tree in a muslin sack overlooking the Mediterranean) it becomes extremely hard and salty and is lastly known and sold as anthotyros-this is the sample I have today. Anthotyros is used grated or crumbled over pasta dishes, or eaten plain with bread and olives.
My little half-ostrich egg of anthotyros Mizithra did not appreciate being cut at all. It crumbled into a little cheesy pile and was nearly impossible to slice (see photo below). It’s a bright white-coloured cheese with an almost powdery looking paste. It doesn’t even look like cheese. There are no eyes and no discernible rind. It smells faintly of barn–like there’s a sheep herd about a mile away over the hill.
What the f*ck? No seriously, what is this? I don’t think it’s a cheese. I think it’s a desiccant. I just popped a chunk into my mouth and all the saliva disappeared. It’s outrageously salty and barny and dry and weird and awful. How in the world did it last 2000 years? I’m serious! And to think that this is the aged and more generally acceptable version, imagine what sour mizithra tastes like! Yikes! Luckily I think you can only get that one in Crete. I don’t get this cheese at all-unless if grated over a pasta dish it turns into something else entirely-but lots of hard grate-able cheeses also taste good on their own. Not this one. Beware!