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Kefalotyri is a type of cheese made from sheep’s milk which is produced in Greece. It is generally aged for approximately three months and factors into many traditional dishes in Greek cuisine. The cheese typically has a hard, dry texture and a strong, pungent flavor that is thought to be comparable to Italy’s Parmesan cheese. It does not tend to be easily accessible throughout the world; therefore, areas far from Greece may have difficulty finding it and may have to look to specialty cheese merchants.
Due to its sharp flavor, kefalotyri is often used in small amounts to add flavor to dishes. If large amounts of the cheese are used, it can potentially overpower the other ingredients in the dish. It is generally grated or shaved and sprinkled on top of dishes as a topping or garnish. Since the cheese is hard, it does not tend to melt well and is usually not used as a spread or in any other dishes where it is important that the cheese is soft.
Although kefalotyri tends to be primarily utilized in small amounts as a topping, it may also be used in dishes that feature it in larger quantities. One common appetizer in Greek cuisine that uses the cheese as the main ingredient is known as saganaki, in which the cheese is cut into cubes or thin slices before being coated in flour and fried in oil until lightly browned on each side. Saganaki is typically served with pita bread as an accompaniment. Lemon juice and brandy or another type of liquor is often added to the pan to form a sauce to serve with the fried cheese. This variation is often referred to as "flaming saganaki" because the brandy or liquor briefly flames when it comes into contact with the hot pan.
Another traditional Greek dish that uses larger amounts of kefalotyri is pastitsio. This is a casserole comprised mainly of chopped or ground lamb meat, along with pasta and cheese. Cooked lamb is combined with cooked pasta and a creamy sauce made from flour, butter, milk and eggs. It is traditionally topped with generous amounts of grated kefalotyri cheese and baked until the cheese becomes golden brown and the casserole’s sauce thickens.
Since kefalotyri can be hard to find outside of the Mediterranean or specialty cheese shops, there are a variety of other, more widely accessible cheeses that may be substituted. The most common substitute tends to be hard Italian cheese, such as Parmesan or Pecorino, which both have a similar strong flavor and hard texture. Kasseri, another Greek sheep’s milk cheese, may also be used but it has a softer texture and milder flavor.