In hot weather, I can’t think of many cheeses that appeal to me more than manouri. What an underappreciated Greek cheese, forever in the shadow of feta. Would it do better in the U.S. under another name? Does it sound too much like a soil amendment?
Manouri owes everything to feta. Like ricotta, it’s a byproduct, made with the whey from feta production. To make it, producers combine whey with cream from sheep’s milk, reheat the blend and harvest the fluffy curds that float to the surface. Drained in cloth bags that are twisted into a log, the curds coalesce into a fat white sausage. The bags are strung up for 10 days to allow the cheese to drain further and ripen a bit, then the logs are removed from the bags, packaged in plastic and shipped. Most stores cut these roughly five-pound logs crosswise into thick disks and rewrap them for sale.
Manouri is rindless, with a delicate buttery aroma and just a whisper of the lanolin scent you find in aged sheep’s milk cheese. Its moist, tender texture is the feature I love most. Although it looks like cream cheese,
it is much lighter on the tongue and never gummy. It’s less salty than feta and softer than ricotta salata. The richness of sheep’s milk comes through in manouri’s buttery and lemony flavor.
Greeks eat manouri for dessert with honey and figs in summer, with grapes and walnuts in fall, or simply sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. But I like to take it in a savory direction. Drizzle it with olive oil and grind some coarse black pepper on top, then serve it with sliced tomatoes or an arugula salad for lunch. You can also crumble it over pasta with fried zucchini or tomato sauce; it will melt as you toss the pasta and leave a more mellow impression than pecorino romano.
Look for manouri at Haight Street Market, 22nd and Irving Market, and Parkside Farmers Market in San Francisco; Star Grocery and Berkeley Bowl West in Berkeley; Driver’s Market in Sausalito; Sonoma Market; Big John’s in Healdsburg; Milk Pail Market in Mountain View; Draeger’s Market in Menlo Park, and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz. Open a light, bright, brisk white wine, like a Greek Assyrtiko, Sardinian Vermentino or French Muscadet. This subtle cheese, so well priced, deserves a wider audience. If you like it, ask your local merchant to stock it.