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Soft, tangy, and milky white, fresh cheeses are the darlings of the cheese world. Some, such as fresh mozzarella, are so young that they barely have time to develop flavors beyond the subtleties of the milk used to make them. Others, such as feta, have more pronounced flavor thanks to added salt and other seasoning. Celebrate Mediterranean Diet Month by learning more about fresh cheeses and their versatility in the kitchen.

Virtually every region around the Mediterranean has its own form of fresh cheese, made from local milk and varying slightly from place to place. Quite a few cheeses are made from whey (the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of cheese curds), making use of the “waste” product from other cheeses.

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Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy fresh Mediterranean cheeses:

All by themselves. Enjoy a couple slices plain or dress them up with a little olive oil, fresh fruit, or honey for a satisfying snack. Halloumi, a semi-hard fresh cheese from Cyprus, is best served simply sliced and grilled. 

In savory fillings. Greeks are famous for their savory pies (e.g. spanakopita) filled with greens, herbs, and fresh cheeses like feta and the cheese made from its whey, manouri.

Try our recipe for Thick Crusted Greens, Onion, and Feta Pie. Recipe here.

With pasta. In Italy, what cheese tortellini or ravioli would be complete without ricotta? Ricotta is sweet, smooth, and is made from the whey that’s drained off in the production of mozzarella and other cheeses.

Make our Greek-style Vegetarian Lasagna. Find the recipe here.

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For breakfast. Found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, labane (or labne or labanah) is a “yogurt cheese” made by draining thick, full-fat yogurt overnight in cloth. It’s similar to Greek yogurt — velvety and slightly sour — and traditionally eaten at breakfast served with olive oil, fresh herbs, and pita bread. Try using it as a substitute for cream cheese too.

For texture. Add fresh cheeses to hot dishes — at the last moment, to avoid curdling — to give them a richer flavor and creamier texture. Mascarpone, a velvety smooth Italian “tub cheese” typically used to make tiramisu, can also add creaminess to savory dishes like risotto. A couple of spoonfuls go a long way.

 

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In saladsFeta is a favorite salad cheese because it adds a nice tang that is quick to complement other ingredients, from earthy beets to light and peppery arugula.

Take your tastebuds to the Mediterranean with our Milo Salad with Oregano, Feta Cheese, and Cucumbers. Recipe here.

Cheese, eaten in moderation and in the context of a Mediterranean diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and nuts, is a healthy and nutritious food. For more information about the health benefits of cheese, visit the Oldways Cheese Coalition’s website.


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