Homemade Traditional Mizithra Cheese

20190219_203149If you’re from the West Coast, you likely know about mizithra cheese from The Old Spaghetti Factory’s browned butter and mizithra cheese pasta (which is really good).  What you may not know is that this cheese has a history that goes back thousands of years.  That should tell you how easy it is to make if ancient Greeks could do so without modern kitchens!

20190220_192304(All links open a new page, so you won’t lose your spot when you look around!  Get information on gardening and cultural traditions, recipes, stories, and more!)

Mizithra is what’s known as a “whey cheese”, a cheese that is made by using the whey from previous cheese or yogurt making to provide the acidity to curdle milk.  The milk is traditionally a combination of sheep and goat, but cow’s milk works just as well.  Anthotyros is another whey cheese and is almost identical to mizithra.  If you want to frustrate yourself, by all means, try looking up information that will clearly describe how the two cheeses are different.  Have fun with that!  When I asked my own mom if they were all that different, she just said “not really”.

20190220_192357Regardless of the name, mizithra can be eaten or used fresh as a sweet cheese, similar to ricotta or cream cheese, or it can be salted, and even dried to a hard cheese that can be grated and tastes amazing on pasta dishes.  When eaten as a soft cheese, it’s perfect for spreading on crackers or bread and tastes equally wonderful with a drizzle of honey or olive oil (my mom’s favorite way!).  The fact that it can be made in a short period of time makes it even better!

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Homemade Traditional Mizithra Cheese Recipe

The authentic way to make this cheese requires whey drained off from other cheese or yogurt.  So what to do if you haven’t made cheese?  You have two (update: three!) easy options: you can make Greek yogurt and save the whey after you strain your yogurt to thicken it, or you can buy plain, regular (not Greek) yogurt and strain it (see my Greek yogurt recipe for instructions on how to do this).  (Option three is to make my “cheater’s” version!)  It is important to get yogurt that does not have any gelatin, pectin, or any other types of additives, just milk and bacterial cultures.  To get enough whey to make a decent amount of cheese you will need to start with at least 8 cups of unstrained yogurt.

Directions

For every 1 cup of whey, you will need 2 1/3 cups of milk (any combination of sheep, goat, or cow to your taste), and a generous 1/4 tsp. salt (optional).  Measure out the milk into a pot and heat on the stove to near boiling, stirring regularly to prevent scorching.  Add the whey, turn the stove to low, and continue to cook while stirring regularly.  You will continue to do this until the milk is curdled and the liquid portion is no longer white, but more clear and yellow in color.  Once it reaches this point, remove it from the heat.

Line a strainer or colander with a clean tea towel or muslin cloth, and set it over a large bowl.  Carefully pour the liquid from the pot into the strainer to filter out the whey.  Use a spatula to scrape the milk solids from the sides of the cloth to keep the liquid moving through.  Once all the liquid has drained through, if you want your cheese salted, which it will need to be if you want to dry it, you will add it now and gently mix it into the cheese curds.  The whey you strain out can be used to make more cheese, or used as a great soil-acidifier for acid loving plants like blueberries, hydrangeas, gardenias, etc, so don’t just dump it!  Even other plants will appreciate the nutrient boost.  Just be sure to let it cool first.

20190220_192529At this point, gather up the corners of the cloth and tie them together.  I like to stick a long-handled spoon through the knot and suspend the cheese in something tall like a juice pitcher to allow the cheese to dry a little more.  How much you want to let it dry is up to you.  Overnight is enough to get it to cream cheese thickness.  It will take several days to get it to a point where it is dry enough to grate it like parmesan.  If you want it that dry, remove it from the cloth after 24 hours and place it into a fresh, dry cloth, rub salt all around the cheese ball, and re-hang it someplace cool (but not the refrigerator) where it will not be disturbed.  Update: I’m working on a more specific set of instructions for drying mizithra to ensure consistent success… something I’m sure you’d like!  It will take a while, but I’ll keep you all posted when it’s ready!  In the meantime, you’ll have really tasty soft mizithra! Enjoy!

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