Like the air and water that surround the islands of the Mediterranean, the cheeses produced on these islands are salty staples of the Mediterranean. Steeped in cultural tradition, many of them are PDO/DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) and made using raw milk. These delightful cheeses are used throughout delicious Mediterranean meals for a boost of protein and flavor.
We’ve selected 7 cheeses from 7 different Mediterranean islands, all of which can be used to add fresh flavor to some of your favorite Mediterranean meals:
Sicily: Ragusano is a raw milk pasta-filata (pulled curd) cheese, which earned PDO status in 1996. Ragusano is made using whole milk from the Modicana breed of cows and formed into a long rectangular shape, often called “scaluni” in the Sicilian dialect because of its resemblance to a step in a staircase. Slice this cheese into ½” thin strips and heat lightly in a skillet then drizzle a small amount of honey onto it for a warm melty treat.
Sardinia: Fiore Sardo is a raw milk pecorino style cheese made using the Sarda breed of sheep. It is smoked using the bark of the Sughero tree, which is also used to make corks for wine bottles. Historical evidence traces this cheese’s production back to the Bronze Age. Traditionally, it was made using cardoon flowers to coagulate the sheeps milk, hence the name “Fiore Sardo” or “Sardinian flower.” Grate Fiore Sardo over your favorite pasta dish instead of Parmigiano Reggiano to add a smoky, salty flavor.
Mykonos: Kopanisti is a traditional cheese made in the Cycladic islands using raw goat and sheep’s milk. Soft in texture and spicy in flavor, this cheese is a PDO cheese as well. The spicy, peppery flavor comes from the development of a mold which forms on the surface during aging and is mixed into the cheese itself several times throughout the aging process. Kopanisti is typically served with tomatoes and olive oil atop rusks (twice-baked wheat biscuits) to lighten the intensity of the cheese’s flavor. Try it with fresh grapes or figs for a delicious Mediterranean summer snack.
Crete: Galomizithra is a soft sheep and goat’s milk cheese with a PDO in Crete. Soft and tangy with a subtle sourness, this cheese makes for a tasty addition to salads and meze plates. Try substituting it for feta or goat cheese in your next salad!
Corsica: Brocciu is a traditional Corsican cheese made with goat or sheep’s milk. This cheese is made with whey that is heated prior to the addition of the milk, giving it a texture and taste similar to ricotta, which is a whey based Italian cheese. Brocciu is featured across the entire spectrum of Corsican cuisine, from appetizers to desserts. Try it with some jam and toast for a quick and satisfying breakfast.
Cyprus: Kefalotyri is a hard cheese made in Cyprus from goat and sheep’s milk, either combined or separate. This salty cheese has been made since the Byzantine era and is seen as an early ancestor to many of today’s hard Greek cheeses. Add it to a cheeseboard with fresh fruit and enjoy on a sunny summer day, or grate atop pasta to add a salty, nuttier flavor to your dish.
Malta: Gbejna are small cheeselets made using sheep or goat milk. Available in both raw and pasteurized, these tiny cheeses are produced in many varieties including: fresh, salt cured, sundried, and peppered. The peppered versions are sometimes stored in oil or pickled for added flavor.
You can find most of these cheeses at your local specialty cheese shop or from an online specialty foods shop that will ship directly to your front door! Try using them in some of our favorite recipes below.
Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes. Main photo from istockphoto.com.