From sour, flakey, hard, to creamy!Due to Naxos‘ fertile land, ample water resources, and rich livestock, the island famously produces tasty Greek cheeses. The tradition in cow milk cheese dates all the way back to the Venetians era, then the Cyclades were the only parts of Greece with abundant dairy cows during the 16th century. Hence, Naxos has always fostered the technique of cheesemaking.
Not to mention, the art of cheesemaking also goes all the way back to Greek mythology. Since Apollo’s son Aristaios was a brilliant cheese maker, who taught islanders on Naxos the craft.
Today, Naxos farms more than 10,000 cows, with more than 100,000 free-range goats and sheep. All of this results in 1,500 tonnes of cheese produced on the island every year. When you’re there, don’t forget to try these major players below, each showcases a different taste and style.
1. Arseniko = hard goat cheese
Considered as the king of all cheese, arseniko means “male,” represents thousands of years of tradition from the village of Koronos. The taste is powerful, because in Naxos the milk isn’t boiled so that many enzymes are still alive. Shepherds all arseniko a “live cheese” and it contains more calcium than any other cheese. The taste also changes every 2-3 months, becoming more aromatic and spicy.
2. Xinomyzithra = crumbly semi-fresh cheese
This is a sour variant of Mizithra and made from strained goat’s milk, heated then stirred. After it’s put into molds to drain, it’s pressed then ripened for at least 2 months. Xinomyzithra cheese is soft, white, creamy with a sour taste.
3. Graviera = Swiss gruyere
This is the second most popular cheese in Greece, after feta. Made in 9-kilo wheels, the rind of the hard cheese is marked with crisscross from the draining cloth. Graviera of Naxos is mainly made from cow’s milk, and it has to be aged for a minimum of 3 months. This can be eaten sliced, fried, grated over pasta, or cubed on salads. Graviera is so famous in Naxos that it’s been given a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) since 1996.
4. Xynotyri = sour cheese
Hard and flakey, xynotyri is made from goat or sheep milk. It has a strong aroma with a sweet and sour taste. It’s drained and cured in reed baskets, then matures in animal skin bags. It’s been said the lactobacillus strains in xynotyri cheese have an anti-bacterial effect so it’s also considered a healthy cheese.
5. Myzithra = similar to Italian ricotta
Made with milk and whey from sheep and/or goats, this salt-dried cheese matures into something quite like the Italian ricotta. When no salt is added, the taste is sweet and milky. It can be eaten as a dessert with honey, or as a mezes with olives and tomatoes. If it’s salted, then it’s perfect for a plate of pasta.