The basis of Kefalonian cheese making was and still remains its indigenous animal breeding. It must be considered certain that the evolution of the old family business scheme, which was practiced by the shepherds of Kefalonia, created a favorable environment for the flourishing of the art of cheesemaking on the island. It is therefore required to jointly study these two phenomena, in order to draw the right conclusions.
It is useful to mention some statistical data, from databases compiled by various conquerors of the island.
H. Tsitselis says that: “by conclusion and analogy, Partsch says that the island would not have more than 31,000 inhabitants in 1766… and the animals in each area were as follows: Horses for riding and agricultural work 190, plow ox 1211, heifers and cows 732, sheep 18,520 and goats 16,605, mules and donkeys 2424".
Even during the census of 1829, where the island’s population was 60,000 inhabitants, he says: "According to the statistics, the island then had 100,000 sheep, 700 plow ox, 1,000 mules and horses and 1,000 donkeys" and finally, according to an 1833 census, where the island’s population was 56,447 inhabitants, he says: "According to English statistics, from the island’s area, 8,000,000 square meters were cereal crops, 6,000,000 raisin plantations, 432,000 olive groves, 1,644,000 pasture and 189,786,000 were barren fields"
In every historical period, animal breeding has always been important in the area. All animal breeding businesses were family. And these businesses ensure the milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, wool and meat of the year. Throughout the years, and the advancements of technology, the conditions improved. However, even until today, this is a tiring and demanding profession. The simultaneous growth of cheesemaking and the increase in the demand for sheep and goats in the market, led the industry in the era of the European Union, where financial aid balanced the declining income of breeders. At the dawn of the 21st century, the local breeders faced many challenges and dangers amidst an ominous world milieu. The rise of shipping in the past, the rapid growth of tourism, and the emergence of competitive producers in the Balkans, combined with the complexities of the profession, seem to lead the traditional Kefalonian animal breeding to a dead end
Our island is a miniature of Greek reality, in terms of analogies and species of farmed populations.
There are mixed populations of sheep on the island, which consist of Kefalonian sheep (katseno) and some half-bred sheep that came from crossbreeding. Katseno is a remarkable sheep with particular morphological and productive features. Based on references, its origin is Ithaca, where it can be found even until today. It has similarities with the sheep of Karystos, with which it probably has the same origin. It should be mentioned that it has some common features with the sheep of Pelion. Katseno is a small sheep with a height at the withers of 65.4 cm for rams and 60.2 cm for ewes. Males weigh 58.3 kg, and females 43.6 kg. The head is of medium size and has a conical shape. And there is a groove under the forehead. Their ears are small and semi-erect. Their legs are small and strong, to help them climb the mountains of the island. Udder is normal and nipples are small. Wool is mostly white. All naked parts of their body, such as the legs, the head, the belly and the lower part of the neck, are yellowish. It has mixed wool, and its quality is relatively good. Katsena, under good rearing conditions, reproduce within their first year of life, and have orgasms from the age of eight months. Prolificacy is 1,1 (average number of lambs born per sheep) and breastfeeding lasts 30-40 days. Live lambs weigh approximately 12 kg each. The duration of milk production is approximately 150 days and the average milk production is 175 kg. Productivity is not the same between ewes, ranging from 250 to 120 kg of milk.
Regarding the goats of the island, the population consists in the vast majority of half-bred animals. Males have a shoulder height of about 65-70 cm and females of 60-65. They have strong legs that help them climb the mountains. It should be noted that in recent years improved breeds of goats are sporadically bred around the island, and especially in the area of Lixouri, and generate increased production.
During the dairy season, the quantities of goat and sheep milk produced are sold to dairy factories and converted into Kefalonian traditional cheeses. However this period differs from area to area, but generally lasts from November until mid-June. Milking is done manually. In the recent years though there are modern milking machines that do the job instead of the breeder.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION OF CHEESE MAKING FOR THE ISLAND AND HISTORICAL DATA
Our island is inextricably linked to cheese making, something also verified historically. Based on the research of G. Moschopoulos, it is worth mentioning that according to the census of 1810 (British Museum, AD20187), 682,615 liters of cheese were produced on the island and 9,102 of them were exported. Although the composition of the quantities by type is not specified, recording cheese production is extremely important, because it reveals the existence of the necessary know-how for the production and preservation of cheese on a large scale.
Looking back at the evolution of cheese-making, we trace the first step, the transformation of which led us to today's reality. This step was the family business. The family business was always interlinked with the local animal farming, which was flourishing on the island, and it is where the majority of the cheesemakers on the island come from. In short, an animal breeding family, in order to ensure their livelihood, fully exploited the productive capacity of the animals reared. Thus, wool was intended for clothes, mattresses, pillows and other similar items. Meat was either sold or consumed within the family. As for milk, whatever quantity was not consumed was converted into traditional, slightly sour yogurt and cheese, to meet the needs of the family.
At some point, family production was increased and there was the need to sell any surplus. This is very important because the breeder, by discovering the trade and the rules that govern it, acquires a commercial consciousness. Then some of them, who were particularly perceptive, seeing the dynamics of the products they produced, set up the first small-scale cheese factories. This was the decisive step for the transition from home-made to the cheese-making business.
During the period when cheesemaking on the island was still in the works, it was impossible not to be influenced by the international developments, which were cataclysmic. It is therefore mandatory to delimit the historical framework at that time, in order to fully understand the data about to be presented below. Kefalonia was not under the Ottoman occupation, but until 1797 it belonged to Venice. Then, following the stormy developments the French Revolution brought to Europe, it ended up in the hands of Napoleon (first period 1797-1800 and second period 1807-1814). During the Frankish occupation, along with the other Ionian Islands, it was part of the Ionian State (1800-1807). In 1814, the Ionian Islands established a free and independent state, called the "United States of the Ionian Islands", under the exclusive protection of Great Britain. Finally in 1864 they united with Greece.
The entire aforementioned period in combination with the restless spirit of the local cheesemakers and the favorable conditions created after the Union, laid the foundation for the great flourishing of the Kefalonian cheese-making. Our cheesemakers escaped the narrow geographical boundaries of the island, decisively shaped the cheesemaking map of Greece, and the spread of Feta in the Balkans, Italy and other European countries.
More specifically, after 1864, the cheesemaking industry on the island faced problems due to the limited size of the market, the difficult boat transport, the relatively small volume and quite probably the relatively expensive raw material. Hence, at some point, and after Greece has some sort of political stability, a small group of cheesemakers relocates and establishes the first, privately owned, cheesemaking unit outside the island, in the wider area of Western Greece. The soil there was fertile, there was plenty of raw material and a relatively easy land transportation.
According to the correspondence of the Fanti Family, which was published in a book by Mrs. Moustaki (Pylaros Cheesemaking), in 1902 there is a record of a signed agreement in the area of Vonitsa, between a Kefalonian cheesemaker and a local producer for the purchase of milk. After the successful initiatives of the first cheesemakers outside the island, many others also relocated. They establish cheese factories and promote the local cheesemaking art in the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands, Central Greece, and also abroad, in Albania, Serbia, Romania, Italy, Hungary, and Denmark. Moreover, along with the establishment of production units, they also set up points of sale in many cities in Greece and even in New York. Feta and dairy products were exported since the beginning of the 20th century, as evidenced by the correspondence they exchanged.
The flourishing of the Kefalonian cheesemaking lasts throughout the 20th century. Kefalonian cheesemakers become the ambassadors of the island’s culture and mentality around the world and become known as the ultimate Feta producers. At the same time, being involved in trade broadens their horizons and contributes to the improvement of their economic status. It is also worth saying that cheesemaking workers around 1920 gain class consciousness and proved so by establishing a union, as mentioned by Mr. G. Moschopoulos (The History of Kefalonia, Volume Β’): “Organized unions, where leftist forces played a leading role in the labor movement of the island, were: the builders of Argostoli, the artisans of Argostoli, the road construction workers of Kourouklades, the shoemakers of Argostoli and the cheesemaking workers of Pylaros."
There are about 10 cheese factories operating on the island, which sell their products locally, but also in other markets in Greece (mainly Athens). The products produced are the traditional Kefalotyri, various types of Myzithra, Anthotyro, yogurt, and white cheese (and to be more specific Feta). Based on the Regulation (EC) 1829/2002 of the European Committee, Feta is registered in Greece as a product with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), but according to the Food Code of the Greek Legislation, only Thrace, Epirus, Macedonia, Thessaly, Central Greece, the Peloponnese and Lesvos are entitled to use the name Feta throughout the Greek Territory. It should be noted that reference to the term Feta is made in the aforementioned correspondence of the Fanti Family in 1911. And now after about 100 years, we do not have the right to use this term. This is a very troubling fact.
THE KEFALONIAN MARKET
The role of cheese in the evolution of Greek gastronomy and in shaping our eating habits is extremely important. Point of views vary. In the old days, every farm had some animals that produced milk, which was used to cover various needs. Any leftover milk was turned into cheese. Greeks were not particularly rich in the past. The high cost of meat created a protein gap, which was filled with the consumption of cheese. These parameters through time turned cheese into a food necessity. Greeks are now first in the consumption of cheese in the EU, with 23 kg per person annually, followed by the French, with 22 kg per person.
The Kefalonians also consume massive amounts of cheese.
The profile of local consumers
The palate of Kefalonians is highly selective when it comes to Feta, Kefalotyri, and other local cheeses. This is why we are talking about a particularly difficult and demanding consumer public, which is not satisfied with low quality, but selects with strict criteria.
The requests and questions often asked to a seller, in any cheese shop on the island, are typical. The most usual and simplistic are: “is this a good cheese?”, “Give me cheese from the good barrel”. Then there are the more complex ones, which need a clear and justified answer and clearly demonstrate the style and personality of the buyer: “Last time you could rub it”, he said sternly and then added: “If it is fresh, do not give it to me. I prefer a slightly peppery taste. I do not want to eat soap” and if the seller offered to give him a taste, he would proudly say: “I do not want to taste it! If it is good, give me some. If not, I should not buy it today. You know better!” and if the seller gives him a bad product, then customer will be long gone and shall never come back. Special reference must be made to the tastings of the cheese before being bought. Kefalonian consumers thoroughly check the cross section of the cheese, because they know from their grandfathers to choose cheese with the right size, shape and distribution of holes. He also requires Kefalotyri to be "oily" and not dry.
The Kefalonian buyer of cheese products is very skeptical and prefers you to be honest, look him in the eyes and say "Come back tomorrow when I shall open a new barrel, because what I have is not good for you”, than sell you a product of inferior quality. It should be noted that if the seller is inexperienced and, showing ignorance of risk, tries to play smart, then the buyer shall say “I have also been a cheesemaker and I know!"
All the above and many more shape the complex profile of the Kefalonian cheese eater. These characteristics are the result of centuries of changes that combined with the peculiar personality and deep cheese tradition, crate doubt about anything made with cheese and any seller who is not known for his quality products.
0.5% Dry Myzithra
6% various cheeses
The locals consume a lot of cheese, probably surpassing average consumption in Greece. Based on the costs paid by a local household for the purchase of cheese products, an approximate estimate of the distribution of quantities expressed in the scale of one hundred would be:
As we can see, Feta is the queen of cheeses. The big quantitative difference lies in the fact that Feta is considered a “necessity". This type of goods are characterized by an income elasticity of less than one. This simply means that the demand remains the same, regardless of whether the consumer's income increases or decreases. This verifies that Feta is necessary in the diet of every Kefalonian, and its inclusion in any meal is highly important. The only factor that could affect demand is quality, and not its price. And according to a Japanese saying: “Customer shall remember quality long after forgetting the price”.
The purely local cheeses of Kefalonia are the White Cheese (Feta), the Traditional Salty Kefalotyri, and various types of Myzithra (which will be analyzed in detail below). This section provides a brief description of the production methods, and some interesting details for each one.
Before we elaborate on the Kefalonian cheese-making, we will briefly refer to the importance of the basic components of cheese production, which are: milk (raw material) and rennet (coagulation medium).
Thus, the milk used on the island for the preparation of cheeses comes from goats and sheep in a ratio which ranges around 30%-70%. Milk period lasts approximately from November until mid-June.
Rennet is a very important factor for the production of cheese. It is the ingredient we mix with milk to product cheese. Rennet is sold in retail, and is made of abomasum extracts (fourth compartment of the stomach) from young calves. It is speculated that its action was first discovered in antiquity during the transport of milk into the stomach of a young animal. For many years, rennet was the only product used to coagulate milk for the production of cheese. Today we can also find rennet substitutes. In Greece, the rennet used was made by the cheesemakers themselves, empirically from the abomasum of non-weaned lambs or goats, and was known as local rennet. Its use was banned because it was considered responsible for food poisonings after the consumption of cheese made with it. Nonetheless, it may still be used, especially in the production of Feta and Kefalotyri, as it contributes in the peppery taste, which is quite popular among Greek consumers.
WHITE CHEESE (Feta)
In the beginning there was Feta. Feta started from low. Product of animal breeding, who turned out to be a diva appearing in the international catwalks of high gastronomy, seductively and with finesse. Everyone is jealous of it. Many European countries and areas in Greece claim its origin. Feta however knows that she grew up in Kefalonia, and that this place decisively shaped its personality. Her popularity is particularly strong, and is widely welcomed everywhere. Whether a builder, a breeder, insurance agent or the PM himself, you need your Feta.
And you can eat it with whatever you want... bread, tomato, melon, or even watermelon. Feast for the palate. “Goes with everything”. It is tasty, and goes with everything. And behaves like a real lady. It gives you everything. Calcium, proteins, and vitamins. It does have some extra fat, but so what? Women should be juicy, after all. Lately, its light version was available in the market. But these light versions will never be Feta. A product that simply lights the path and the rest are following it.
Assumptions about the name:
For modern consumers, the word Feta means skinless cheese preserved in brine and made in Greece, with a specific technology from goat and sheep milk. The name Feta is of Italian origin, probably Venetian, based on “fette". The name is supposed to refer to the practice of slicing cheese to be placed in barrels. The legend, as mentioned above, says that Cyclops Polyphemus was the first cheesemaker.
Cheese is an excellent food item, and covers a big part of diet. Depending on its type and method of production, it contains proteins, fat, and calcium at various percentages. Feta is a cheese with rich nutritional value, as presented in the following table
Nutrients Per 100 gr. Feta Daily Intake Need Adults Men
Fat, gr 21
Proteins, gr 17 55 31%
Energy, Kcal 250 3000 8%
Calcium, mg 490 800 61%
Vitamin Α, mg 250 750 33%
Vitamin D, mg 0,3 10 3%
Vitamin Β2, mg 0,75 1,8 41%
Source: National Dairy Committee
It appears that from 100 grams of Feta, the needs of an adult working man can be met by 1/3, in terms of proteins of high biological value, vitamin A and riboflavin (vitamin B2) and by more than 1/2 in calcium. It also covers a significant part of his daily energy needs.
Method of Production:
Feta’s production method has been relatively unchanged for many centuries. Goat and sheep milk is used at an analogy of 30%-70%. After the milk is well filtered, it is pasteurized at 65-68ο C for 10 minutes. It is then cooled, until it reaches around 35ο C, which is when rennet is added based on the amount of milk. We let the milk thicken for about 30 minutes and then divide the curd into cubes of one to two centimeters big. The curd is then transferred to the molds, where it drains from the whey. After the cheese mass coagulates, we take it out of the molds and cut it into slices and put it back in the molds, adding salt. The following day we remove the cheese from the molds, and temporarily place it in barrels, in order to salt it in layers. After 3-5 days, we place it in barrels and transfer it to a chamber with a temperature of 16-18ο C, it will stay for 10 days in order to absorb its moisture. After 10 days, it is placed in the refrigerator at a temperature of 2-4ο C for two months. It is then ready, as required by law, to be sold.
KEFALONIA TRADITIONAL KEFALOTYRI
Goes perfectly with ouzo. It is also the alter ego of every pasta lover. Hard cheese, with a strong spicy and salty taste. With an oily texture and a pleasant aroma, it has countless aficionados. The locals want to see oil when cutting it, while the holes in its surface must convince consumers.
The shape of Kefalotyri is cylindrical with varying dimensions. The weight of each head is usually around 10 kg with a diameter of 32-34cm and a height of 12-14cm. The milk mainly used comes from goats and sheep.
Method of Production:
After being pasteurized, milk is cooled to around 35ο C where rennet is added based on the amount of milk. After about 35 minutes, we divide the curd into granules with a diameter of approximately 0,5 cm. We then reheat the mixture, up to approximately 46ο C, stirring continuously. We then place the curd in a cheese cloth, and then in a mold, where we press it. In two days, after the Kefalotyri is ready, it is placed in brine. After two days, we place it in a ripening chamber, at a temperature of 12-14ο C and humidity of 85%, where it receives dry salting until it absorbs the desired amount.
MYZITHRA FROM KEFALONIA
In this category we have included all the products produced from the heating of the whey that derives from the production of Feta or Kefalotyri.
It is a hard cheese, commercially available in the shape of a small ball. It is ideal for grating. Ideally goes with red sauces, based on wine. Taste of course is something subjective. Use your imagination, and Myzithra will go with every food you so desire.
Method of Production:
We heat the whey that remains after the production process of Feta. As the temperature rises, and after it exceeds 75-80ο C, we collect the Myzithra pieces that float on the surface of the whey and place them in a cheese cloth, leaving it to drain well for about a day. The next day, the cheesemaker takes the Myzithra out of the cloth and hangs it to ripen, also salting it at his discretion.
MYZITHRA STANIA (OF KEFALOTYRI)
It is a cheese of medium hardness, commercially available in an irregular shape that resembles a small ball. It has a pleasant taste, can be added to salads, recipes or consumed as such.
Method of Production:
The method of production is the same as Myzithra produced from Feta. We heat the whey that remains after the production process of Kefalotyri. When the temperature is at sufficient levels, we collect the floating Myzithra and place it on a cheesecloth. The cheesemaker hangs the cheese to ripen, at his discretion.
A lovely soft cheese, ideal for those on a diet. Goes perfectly well with any food, and must be consumed within few days from its production. We can use it as it is, as an appetizer or in a salad, as part of the main meal or as a dessert, if bathed in sugar or honey or if we use it for the preparation of the famous Myzithra pie.
Method of Production:
It is similar to the preparation of Myzithra from Feta, except that we do not use any salt and we do not expose it to the air, but consume it immediately.
Mashed Myzithra used either as a spread, or in recipes, or as a side dish. It is the main ingredient of tradition Kefalonian Riganada, which is similar to the Italian Bruschetta. It also prevails in the Pretza mixture.
Method of Production:
The first stages of preparation are similar to those for any other type of Myzithra. The difference in this process is that the Myzithra is collected in a large mold, where it stays for one day until the whey is drained. The next day it is grated and placed in a barrel, where in the presence of salt it matures until made available for sale.