What is Kefalotiri? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Traditionally, only milk from a sheep or goat can be used to make kefalotiri.
Traditionally, only milk from a sheep or goat can be used to make kefalotiri.

Kefalotiri is a traditional Greek hard cheese that has been produced in that country and the neighboring regions for hundreds of years. In Greece, this cheese is quite popular, and it can be found at most markets and cheese shops. Many regional recipes call for kefalotiri, which has a distinctive mild, salty flavor. Outside of Greece, specialty markets and import stores sometimes stock this cheese, and some cheese stores can order it for their customers. It is also possible to order it directly from its producers.

Kefalotori can be used in Greek salads instead of feta cheese.
Kefalotori can be used in Greek salads instead of feta cheese.

By tradition, only sheep or goat's milk can be used to produce kefalotiri. Both of these milks have a distinctive tangy flavor that mellows as the cheese ages, although there is a distinctive bite to it that makes the final product especially savory. The cheese is heated, curdled, and packed into molds that roughly resemble a kefalo, a type of hat. Once the cheese firms up, it is removed from the molds and allowed to age for three to four months before it is sent to market.

Spinach and kefalotiri are two ingredients often found in Greek spanakopita.
Spinach and kefalotiri are two ingredients often found in Greek spanakopita.

The color of kefalotiri varies, depending on the ratio of sheep's to goat's milk and the time of year. At some times of the year, it turns out almost white, while in other reasons it is a rich golden yellow. In both cases, the cheese hardens as it ages, forming irregular holes that dapple the hardened cheese along with a solid rind. Most producers stamp their kefalotiri so that it will be readily identifiable; if a consumer has access to a whole wheel of this cheese, he or she should be able to find the date it was produced and the name of the cheese maker or dairy that produced it.

Because kefalotiri is so hard, it is ideal for a grated table cheese. Greeks use the cheese like the Italian Parmesan, as a grated topping for a wide assortment of foods. It can also be grated onto roasts, gratins, and grilled dishes, and some recipes also call for a blend of cheeses including kefalotiri. Spanakopita, for example, often includes a liberal sprinkling of it in the cheese, egg, and spinach mixture which gives this dish its name.

In some regions, cooks cut wedges of kefalotiri and fry or grill them. The fried cheese is often breaded and rolled in egg before frying, while grilled kefalotiri is left plain and paired with olives, tomatoes, and other simple ingredients. A slice of cheese can also be enjoyed plain or with a slice of bread.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

aviva

@goldensky - Kefalotiri is pretty hard to find in many places. Fortunately I live near a Greek community so I have access to it whenever I'm in the area.

But I don't always have it on hand when I'm cooking. As a matter of a fact, come to think of it, I used sliced Parmesan cheese in my last saganaki recipe.

It turned out great and my kids liked it better than the goat cheese. Imagine that!

goldensky

I've been invited to a pot-luck toga party next week which should be loads of fun. I have a recipe for Greek meatballs that I would like to bring to the party.

I want to serve them on a platter with homemade saganaki cheese and lemon wedges. My problem is I can't buy that cheese anywhere near me.

Does anyone know if there is a good kefalotiri cheese substitute that I could use? Thanks in advance.

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    • Traditionally, only milk from a sheep or goat can be used to make kefalotiri.
      Traditionally, only milk from a sheep or goat can be used to make kefalotiri.
    • Kefalotori can be used in Greek salads instead of feta cheese.
      Kefalotori can be used in Greek salads instead of feta cheese.
    • Spinach and kefalotiri are two ingredients often found in Greek spanakopita.
      Spinach and kefalotiri are two ingredients often found in Greek spanakopita.