Graviera cheese is one of the most popular cheeses in Greece. It's a hard cheese with a light yellow color, and it has a slightly sweet and nutty taste. The Cretan version is made with sheep's milk or sheep's milk with a small amount of goat's milk. Its salt content cannot be greater than 2 percent. It's aged at least five months before coming to market — in caves. It's formed by hand.
There is also a graviera made in Naxos, Greece, which uses a small measure of cow's milk in addition to sheep's milk. The Greek word for graviera is γραβιέρα Κρήτης and it's pronounced ghrahv-YAIR-ah KREE-tees.
Graviera cheese received a certification of protected destination of origin (a PDO) in 1996. In other words, cheeses calling themselves graviera but made anywhere other than certain regions in Greece are not the real deal and have no right to use the name.
Graviera is typically sweet and fruity, especially young graviera. The version made in Crete is known for its burnt caramel taste, and older graviera can take on a nutty taste. Graviera cheese tends to be a bit oily. Under PDO rules, it must contain at least 49 percent fat and moisture up to 38 percent. This means it's high in calories — about 545 per 4.65 ounces or one cup — and it's also high in sodium and saturated fat. But it's an excellent source of calcium and a good source of protein.
Where to Buy Graviera Cheese
Other than feta, graviera is probably the easiest cheese to find outside Greece. It's sold in wheels or wedges from wheels, and its rind has definitive crisscross markings resulting from the cloth that's used to drain it. You can usually buy it in larger grocery stores. You're also sure to find it in Greek and ethnic groceries and specialty cheese shops. In a pinch, it can purchased online.
Graviera can be stored in the refrigerator, but wrap it in cotton first and bring it up to room temperature before serving.
Cooking With Graviera
Like feta, graviera cheese can be used in many different ways: as a table cheese served as an appetizer, saganaki (fried) or roasted. It's used in cooked dishes, especially au gratin, and as a grated cheese, often over pasta. It makes excellent cheese fritters and Greek saganaki, a pan-seared appetizer with flour, oregano, and a little lemon, traditionally served with bread.
If you want to get really creative and finish your saganaki off in a burst of glory — literally — you can pour a shot or so of ouzo over the cheese when it's done, set a match to it, then douse the flames with lemon juice. This is actually an American tradition, however, not authentic to Greece. It's said to have originated at the Parthenon Restaurant in Chicago.
If You Can't Find Graviera
Gruyere can be used as a substitute for graviera because the cheeses are very similar, but only graviera is made in Greece. In fact, graviera has been called the "Greek gruyere."