Mediterranean people have made cheese for thousands of years and every country has developed its own traditions, from the type of cheese they produce to the way they eat it. There is so much to be discovered – from the simple piece of bread to elaborate food pairings.
If you ever get a chance to travel to this part of the world, you’ll also meet local people who are very proud of the delightful food they serve and renown for their wonderful sense of hospitality.
Feta is probably the most famous cheese in Greece. It is a salty, soft, crumbly cheese made from sheep, goat or cow’s milk. People make feta all over Greece and the flavor variations depend on what the animals are grazing. At most meals, Greeks have a plate of feta on the table, drizzled with fruity olive oil and sprinkled with fresh oregano.
Feta is also perfect as an accompaniment to wine, together with other small plates of food like olives. And, of course, it is never missing from the traditional tomato and cucumber salad, a classical pairing.
One of the best summer treats is feta, or crumbled goat cheese, served with plates of cold watermelon or melon. The saltiness of the feta brings out the sweet flavor of the melon in a perfect match.
Also very popular in Greece is Graviera, a hard cheese with a slightly sweet, caramel flavor, made from sheep’s milk or cow’s milk depending on the area. This is the cheese you’ll find in famous Greek dishes like moussaka or fried “saganaki”, but it is delicious eaten alone or drizzled with some wild thyme honey. The aroma and sweetness of the wild thyme honey bring out the earthiness of the cheese and makes it a great appetizer with wine.
Fresh mozzarella, provolone and fontina cheeses are the stars of the Italian antipasto platter. These cheeses pair well with smoky, rich, cured meats such as salami, prosciutto, capocollo or mortadella. You’ll also find fresh, ripe fruit like figs, peaches and grapes on the platter – to be enjoyed with the variety of cheeses.
Ricotta, another famous Italian cheese now found in markets all over the world, is a soft, mildly flavored, sweet cheese. Drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped walnuts, it makes for a perfect light dessert.
Finally, if you need an excuse to open a bottle of red wine at dinner time, pull out a nutty, dry cheese like a Grana Padano and drizzle it with a reduction of high quality balsamic vinegar.
Spanish tapas wouldn’t be quite complete without cheese, and one of the most popular cheeses in Spain is Manchego, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese with a firm, creamy texture and a slight bite.
The classic Spanish pairing for a nutty Manchego cheese is sweet Membrillo, a thick quince paste, that you can find here in specialty cheese shops. Manchego, or a similar type of cheese, is also delicious with a smoky, dry-cured serrano ham, fresh, ripe tomatoes and crusty bread.
On a cheese plate, you can pair it with almonds, fresh figs or salty olives marinated in olive oil and stuffed with sweet red peppers.
Cabrales, another delicious Spanish cheese, is a spicy, blue cheese made in the northern part of the country and perfect with fresh peaches or figs.
In the Basque country, where every year they hold a traditional festival to celebrate their famous Itxassou cherries, they enjoy combining sweet cherry preserves and sheep’s milk cheese like tomme.
Turkish people love weekend breakfast. It’s a perfect excuse to gather with family around a table of delicious food and tea. On those occasions, Kasseri, or kashar, is one of the most important food served. Turkish kasseri is a soft, stringy cheese with a mild flavor, made from sheep’s milk and similar to mozzarella. This cheese pairs perfectly with salty, bitter, black olives and crusty bread topped with toasted sesame seeds.
Where to Find More Information about Cheese Pairings
With so many cheeses available in markets and specialty shops these days, people have great options for pairing cheeses with other foods, wines and beers. Sometimes with all the choices it can get a bit overwhelming but there are some great resources available to help make the right decisions. On this website, we have posted a number of articles about cheese pairings that we hope you’ll find helpful and interesting: