The consumption of cheese in Crete is enormous and plays a significant role in the Cretan diet. The rearing of goats and sheep on Crete is deeply rooted in mythology. It was said that the dairy products of Crete provided nourishment to the great god, Zeus, who was born in a cave on the island and nursed on goats milk. The history of cheese is as old as Civilisation itself, and is connected to the taming of domestic animals as far back as 10,000 years B.C. The roots of cheese making are not known with certainty. It is, however, believed that cheese was first prepared roughly 8,000 years ago. It was very likely discovery completely by accident as in Greek mythology, the Cyclopes Polyphemos was the first to prepare cheese. Transporting the milk that he collected from his sheep in skin bags made of animal stomachs, one day he realised to his great surprise that the milk had curdled and had taken a solid, tasty and conservable form. The ancient Greeks called the product that emanated from the coagulation of milk 'cheese'. 

Even today the size of the flocks raised are quite small, roaming free in the scented pastures and hillsides of the island. There is no organised breeding and all the animals still feed on the wild herbs and plants. The only real difference today is that processing of the milk does not take place a lot by the farmers anymore but in modern processing units simply because of today's approved standards of hygiene.

Greece produces relatively few types of traditional cheese, but, each has a distinctive flavour. In the villages cheese is made according to local practices thus determine its unique character. Some of the most finest Greek cheeses come from Crete.




This traditional small cheese has exactly the same appearance as gruyere. It is made from sheep milk or a combination of sheep and goat milk. It has a more vivid colour than gruyere and its' taste is full and slightly salted. Kefalograviera is part of the tradition of western Crete, since its' production in the Hania prefecture started many years ago.




This is a hard yellow cheese, with a naturally hard greyish skin, smooth soft texture with small holes. It is produced solely from fresh Cretan sheep milk and has a mild flavour and soft taste. Fantastic flavour with fresh Greek bread and butter.




One of Crete's most famous cheeses is a soft white crumbly creamy cheese called mizithra. Anthotiros from the words 'anthos' and 'tiros' meaning 'flower' and 'cheese' is a very mild, soft, spring cheese made when the sheep and goats pastures are still full of flowers. Its closest counterpart would be ricotta. It's an extremely versatile cheese, very low in fat, therefore it is very healthy. It can be eaten with either as an appetiser or with food often instead of feta and makes a food dessert, since it can also be eaten with honey. 


It can be used as a spread on bread or rusk, filling for savoury and sweet pies, mixed into baked vegetables and stuffed into chicken breast, rabbit etc., It doesn't have a long shelf life but freezes extremely well although, it is never bought frozen, but those who have sheep and goats will make it in large quantities, then the surplus that's left  is frozen and used when sheep and goats produce less milk. 


'Pichtogalo' from Hania: also known as soft mizithra made from a combination of sheep or goat milk, but the best 'Pichotogalo' is made from goat milk. It is a fine soft, creamy white cheese, very light, with a light, sourish but fresh and pleasant taste.




This is made by drying the fresh 'anthotiros' using salt in the drying process. This can give the cheese a more piquant taste. It can be eaten plain but also grated with spaghetti. It makes an excellent 'ladotiri' which is pieces of the cheese stored in olive oil. 




Very old and dehydrated cheese is used for 'Ladotiri' this can be either aged gruyere, kefalograviera or dry anthotiros. The cheese is cut into pieces and completely covered with virgin olive oil. This is a very old way of processing cheese, which obviously has its' origins in the harshest of economic conditions of years-gone-by, with also the lack of technical means for preservation.




This is a soft creamy white cheese with a granular texture and it has a slightly sour taste. It is produced by either sheep or goat's milk or sometimes a combination of both. Both types of mizithra are eaten in many ways, plain, spread on bread or rusk, in salads as well as a filling for cheese and Kalitsounia pies.




This is made from the first shaping of graviera, creating a very milky, soft cheese, resembling mozzarella in taste and texture when cooked and is never eaten fresh. Only used for filling 'Kalitsounia' or Cretan pies. The word 'malako' means soft.




Feta cheese has been produced and enjoyed throughout the countries of the eastern  Mediterranean since antiquity. Feta cheese has been recorded since the Byzantine Empire 395 to A.D. 610, under the name 'prosphatos', 'recent', i.e. fresh, and was associated specifically with Crete. The name 'Feta' means 'slice' originated in the 17th century, and probably refers to the practice of slicing up cheese to be placed into barrels. The name Feta prevailed in the 19th century, and since then has characterised a cheese that has been prepared for centuries using the same general technique, and whose origin is lost in time.

In the 20th century a mass emigration of Greeks to various countries took place mainly to Australia, the United States, Canada and Germany. As a result, numerous Greek communities were formed abroad, whose members maintained, to a large extent, their dietary habits. New markets were created for Feta cheese in different parts of the world, resulting in the growth of Feta's international trade. 

Feta is produced either from sheep milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk. It must be allowed to mature for at least 2 months in wooden barrels or metal containers, covered in brine. It is a soft cheese with no skin, with small holes and quite firm to the touch. It has a clean white colour, a pleasant, lightly acidic flavour and a rich, distinguishable aroma.




Another popular highly sought after Cretan dairy product is the 100%-fat cream, called 'staka'. It comes in a clotted form and is often eaten warmed up as a kind of high-fat dip. Added to a variety of dishes and very high in calories! It is however mainly used in festive pies. It is also used to make the filling in stuffed roast lamb wrapped with vine leaves. 'Staka' can also be heated so that the yellow oily liquid it contains is drained off and turned into butter. This is called 'stakovoutiro' and can be found on sale in the stores in Hania's Market. 


Mainly used when roasting meat but can also be made when cooking a pilaf. Small amounts should be used in order for the food not to be too greasy. When the average farmer used to walk the same number of kilometres as his animals 'staka' was a good form of energy.




More food pages
: Wine : Eating Out : Olive Oil : Honey : Ofto : Prickly Pear
: Local Specialities : Recipes : Local Cheese : Wild Mushrooms :



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