This is a cheese that wears its name on its sleeve. The characteristic embossed surface bears the mark of the special cylindrical wicker mold–kalathaki means little basket–in which the curd is set during the draining and acidification stages. This semi-hard, rindless brine-ripened cheese is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product that is made by a handful of producers on the island of Limnos and exclusively from the milk of local, free-grazing sheep and, to a much lesser extent from goats.
The cheese is made in a similar way to feta, and resembles its vastly more popular and much better known cousin in fat content (43%), taste and texture, but kalathaki Limnou is softer, somewhat less acidic, more peppery and, in my view, more richly flavored. Produced in cylinders of 500 – 1000 g, the cheese is compact, with no or very few small holes; in a cheese of this sort (feta included), the existence of many small holes is bad news, an indication of poor quality milk or high temperature manufacture, either of which favors the growth of coliform and yeast.
Though brine-cured cheese has been eaten in Greece since Antiquity, the origins of this particular cheese are more recent and less documented. One story has it that the cheese was first made on by monks in the 19th century. Among the handful of producers that now make the cheese is Dabizas, a three-generation family-owned company founded in 1946 in Halkidiki, where it also produces a DPO feta. The company has been successful enough to now be exporting to Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere.
Kalathaki Limnou is a traditional cheese but one made to exacting contemporary standards of quality assurance such as HAACP and ISO-20000, but also with an eye to contemporary design practices. Beetroot Design’s packaging design for the cheese, which has garnered both a prestigious Red Dot award and a Gold from the European Design Awards, is fresh, creative and inspired. The company’s name is set in custom type created by Beetroot on the basis of letters in an ancient stele found on the island. This is set within a circle inscribed with a labyrinth-like spiral that recalls the wicker markings of the cheese itself.
Greek feta—and there is no other kind of feta—is a formidable competitor in the market for brined cheeses. Not only does it account for 70% of all cheese consumed in Greece, with annual per capita consumption at roughly 12 k., it also has been enormously successful abroad, thanks to the efforts of large manufacturers such as Dodonis. But kalathaki Limnou has carved out a niche market that is continuing to grow. I’m rooting for it.
A comprehensive look at the making of feta and other brine-matured sheep- and goat-milk cheese can be found in the (online) collection of articles on Brined Cheese edited by Dr. Adnan Tamime