Kefalotyri is a hard, salty yellow cheese that originated in Greece and Cyprus. With its tangy, sharp flavor, kefalotyri has been an important part of Mediterranean cuisine for centuries.
However, outside of Greece and Cyprus, kefalotyri can be difficult to find in local grocery stores.
If you don't have access to kefalotyri, don't worry - there are many great substitutes that can mimic its salty, robust flavor profile.
What Is Kefalotyri Cheese?
Kefalotyri is a brined cheese made from sheep's milk or a combination of sheep and goat's milk. Like other Mediterranean cheeses such as feta, kefalotyri has a creamy interior encased in a salty, hardened rind.
The cheese originated in Greece and Cyprus and has been produced in the region for thousands of years. Kefalotyri is believed to date back to the Byzantine era between the 4th and 15th centuries AD.
Kefalotyri is classified as a semi-hard cheese. When young, the paste has a springy, smooth texture similar to mozzarella. Aged kefalotyri becomes drier and more crumbly, with a stronger, tangier flavor.
The cheese is formed into large rounds or cylinders and aged for 3-12 months. The aging process concentrates the flavor and allows kefalotyri to develop its signature sharp, salty taste. The rind is also treated by being rubbed frequently with brine during the aging period.
How Is Kefalotyri Cheese Used in Greek Cooking?
Kefalotyri plays an essential role in many iconic Greek and Cypriot dishes thanks to its robust salty flavor. Here are some of the most common uses for kefalotyri cheese:
Fried Cheese (Saganaki)
One of the simplest Greek appetizers featuring kefalotyri is saganaki, which is basically fried cheese. Pieces of kefalotyri are dredged in flour, fried in olive oil until golden brown, and often flambéed tableside with brandy or Metaxa Greek spirit. The warm, crispy kefalotyri contrasts beautifully with the salad and bread served alongside saganaki.
Grated Over Salads
Kefalotyri's salty tang makes an excellent finishing touch for Greek salads. Grated kefalotyri can be sprinkled over classic horiatiki salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta. The interplay between the creamy feta and sharp kefalotyri adds another layer of flavor.
Pastitsio and moussaka are two iconic casseroles that rely on kefalotyri for their signature flavors. In pastitsio, tubular pasta is layered with spiced ground meat and topped with a kefalotyri béchamel sauce. For moussaka, slices of eggplant and ground meat are layered between béchamel made with kefalotyri. The cheese adds a lovely salty accent to these comforting baked pasta dishes.
No Greek meal is complete without spanakopita, the classic spinach and feta pie. Traditional recipes call for a blend of feta and kefalotyri in the filling. The kefalotyri lends a sharper bite that perfectly complements the spinach.
Kefalotyri's high melting point makes it perfect for cooking atop pizzas. Grate kefalotyri over pizzas in place of mozzarella for a more robust, tangy flavor. It's especially good paired with classic Greek ingredients like olives, tomatoes, onions, and oregano.
Key Takeaway: Kefalotyri cheese is a salty, tangy cheese used in many iconic Greek dishes like saganaki, salads, pastitsio, moussaka, spanakopita, and pizza.
5 Best Substitutes for Kefalotyri Cheese
If you don't have access to kefalotyri cheese, don't fret. Here are the top substitutes to use that can mimic its salty, tangy flavor and texture:
Graviera is the closest direct substitute for kefalotyri. Like kefalotyri, graviera is a brined Greek cheese made from sheep's or goat's milk. It has an identical texture and robust, tangy flavor profile.
Graviera and kefalotyri can be used interchangeably in recipes. The main difference is that graviera is often aged slightly longer, giving it a more crumbly texture.
Kefalograviera is another excellent substitute for kefalotyri, as the two cheeses are actually closely related. Kefalograviera is essentially a blend of kefalotyri and graviera cheese.
Kefalograviera delivers the same salty, piquant flavor as kefalotyri. It has a smooth, elastic texture when young that becomes more crumbly as it ages. This Greek cheese can be substituted directly for kefalotyri in any recipe.
Kasseri is a Greek sheep's milk cheese that makes a good stand-in for kefalotyri. While it has a slightly milder flavor, kasseri approximates the salty tang of kefalotyri. It has a similar pale yellow interior and crumbly texture when aged.
Kasseri works well in baked dishes that call for kefalotyri, like pastitsio or spanakopita. Just be aware that kasseri melts more readily than kefalotyri, so it may not hold up as well to high-heat cooking methods.
Halloumi is a brined Cypriot cheese made from sheep and goat's milk with a high melting point. When uncooked, halloumi makes a decent salty substitute for kefalotyri, especially when crumbled over salads or eaten as part of a cheese platter.
However, halloumi behaves quite differently when cooked. Instead of melting smoothly, halloumi retains its shape and develops a pleasantly chewy texture when fried or grilled. So it won't work well as a melty cheese in casseroles.
Parmesan cheese makes an easily accessible substitute for kefalotyri. While parmesan is made from cow's milk, it mimics some of the salty, tangy flavors of kefalotyri. Grated parmesan can be used in place of kefalotyri as a topping for pizzas, salads and pastas.
Just keep in mind that parmesan has a harder, crunchier granular texture compared to the smooth, creamy melt of kefalotyri. So parmesan works better as a finishing cheese rather than the main melty cheese in casseroles or other baked dishes.
Key Takeaway: The best substitutes for kefalotyri are graviera, kefalograviera, kasseri, halloumi, and parmesan. Each mimics some of the salty, robust flavor of kefalotyri.
Tips for Cooking With Kefalotyri Substitutes
When swapping kefalotyri for another cheese in recipes, keep these tips in mind:
- Adjust salt: Many kefalotyri substitutes are salty cheeses. Taste dishes as you cook and cut back on any added salt if needed.
- Watch the melt: Cheeses like parmesan don't melt smoothly like kefalotyri. Use parmesan as a finishing cheese rather than the main melty cheese in baked dishes.
- Mind the moisture: Drier cheeses like parmesan may require additional moisture to substitute for creamy kefalotyri. Increase the béchamel or white sauce to compensate.
- Brown carefully: Substitutes like halloumi brown faster than kefalotyri when pan-fried. Keep a close eye to avoid burning.
- Sample the flavor: Taste substitutes side-by-side with kefalotyri to understand their flavor differences. Balance other seasonings accordingly.
Key Takeaway: When using kefalotyri substitutes, adjust salt, watch melting properties, add moisture if needed, and balance other flavors.
What is the flavor profile of kefalotyri cheese?
Kefalotyri has a robust, tangy, and salty flavor profile. Young kefalotyri is milder, while aged kefalotyri becomes sharper and more piquant.
What type of milk is used to make kefalotyri?
Traditionally, kefalotyri is made from either sheep's milk or a combination of sheep and goat's milk. Some modern versions may use cow's milk.
Where does kefalotyri cheese originate from?
Kefalotyri originated in Greece and Cyprus, where it has been produced since Byzantine times. It remains a quintessential cheese in Greek and Cypriot cuisine.
Can I use parmesan or pecorino romano as a substitute?
Yes, parmesan or pecorino romano make decent substitutes. They mimic some of kefalotyri's salty, tangy flavor. Just keep in mind they have a harder texture and don't melt as smoothly.
How long does kefalotyri last in the fridge?
Properly stored kefalotyri sealed in its brine will last 2-3 months in the refrigerator. Without brine, it may last 1-2 months refrigerated. Mold at the rind edge is normal as it ages.
Kefalotyri is a traditional Greek and Cypriot cheese that lends iconic flavors to many Mediterranean dishes.
When kefalotyri isn't available, you have plenty of excellent options to mimic its salty tang.
The best substitutes are fellow Greek cheeses like graviera, kefalograviera, and kasseri. Italian cheeses like parmesan can also work in a pinch.