When looking at the Mediterranean diet pyramid, there is quite a large amount of cheese featured. In fact, if you follow a mediterranean diet it is recommended that you eat dairy each day, in moderation of course. Greeks rarely consume cow's milk products, with the exception of some yoghurts and there is certainly no low fat, over salted processed yellow plastic cheeses! The mediterranean Greek diet is all about fermented milk products such as yoghurt and feta cheese made predominantly from sheep and goats milk based products.
Feta cheese is probably the most iconic and well known of all Greek cheeses. It is rich in probiotic bacteria and made from a mixture of sheep and goat milk. It is not to be confused with cow's milk 'feta' from some other countries, the taste and texture of which is dramatically different too Greek Feta. Indeed, Greek feta cheese now has a Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) (hooray!), which specifies that it must be made from pure sheep milk or a mixture with up to 30% of goat's milk in specific regions of Greece such as Epirus, the Peloponnese and Mitilini Island. So if you are buying feta - make sure you a getting the proper Greek DOC cheese and not an imitation.
Feta cheese is often an ingredient in many Greek main meals - think of this famous Greek salad, topped with a big slice of feta drizzled with olive oil and riagni or the famous Greek pies - filled with greens, aromatic herbs and salty feta. If it is not part of the main meal itself, feta cheese is always served at the table as a side dish, along with a bowl of home-cured olives. The most simple meze often consists of a small bowl of olives and a few pieces of feta - and maybe a fresh summer tomato drizzled with olive oil. As such, Greeks consume feta cheese with almost every meal. This is an important source of protein and calcium, in what is a traditionally meat-free diet, where the main meal is usually vegetables or legumes.
Tirokafteri literally translates as 'hot cheese' and it makes a perfect little meze, along with some good rustic bread, olives and whatever else you fancy! It is simply feta cheese mashed with a bit of good quality Greek olive oil and a hot roasted pepper or capsicum. You can make it as smooth or chunky as you like - pulse gently in a food processor or mash with a fork.
Spicy Feta Cheese Dip – Tirokafteri (τυροκαφτερή)
250 g of good quality Greek DOC feta
2 red florina peppers or 1 red capsicum
2 long red chillies, with the seeds removed
1/4 cup of good quality Greek olive oil
1 teaspoon of Greek red wine vinegar
Aleppo chilli flakes or chilli powder (to taste)
1. Grill the peppers (or capsicum) and the chillies until they blister. Peel them and place them on paper towels to remove any excess liquid.
2. In a food processor, add the feta with the peppers (or capsicum) chilli and chilli flakes or powder. Gradually add all the olive oil and vinegar until smooth.
3. Let it sit in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving. Drizzle with a little olive oil before serving and top with some roasted pine nuts and a pinch of chilli flakes.