The Foundation's Cow Farm, through the introduction of better breeds, has helped in improving the quality of herds in the area. Also the foundation's Cheese Factory has taught people in Metsovo how to make good cheese.


Man has made cheese from ancient times. According to Greek mythology, Polyphemus, the Cyclops who imprisoned Ulysses in “ The Odyssey”, was the first cheese-maker.
The exact etymology of the Greek word of cheese, “tyri” (pronounced “tee ree”), is unknown. Cheese is called “tyros” in “The Iliad” by Homer, “Cyclops” by Euripides and “The Frogs” by Aristophanes.
Aristotle and Dioscourides gave us the first recipes for the production of cheese and from them we know that the ancients used the white “sap” from the branches and fruit of fig trees to curdle their milk. According to Ktissios, Queen Semiramis “did not eat cheese other than that produced from the milk of white cows, and that the Greeks, having understood the beneficial qualities of cheese, gave it to their wrestlers to improve their stamina.”

During the Middle Ages, monks made cheese in practically all the monasteries of Europe. Many references attest to the exceptional Parmesan that was eaten in the monastery of Parma (to which the cheese obviously owes its name). Until the nineteenth century, methods of cheese-making were clearly empirical, passed on from generation to generation, true of every tradition.
Louis Pasteur was probably the first person to study the process of fermentation systematically. In 1848, he showed that frementation is the result of the reaction of a leavening agent which converts sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide, a process instigated by live organisms found in the air. He further discovered that heating milk to 112 degrees Celsius sterilizes the liquid by promoting the destruction of any of the harmful organisms present.

Cheese is the product of the curing of the solid matter of the milk, which is separated from the liquid “whey” by the process of curdling ( i.e. by the addition of agents which sour it and draw out its water). Definitions, though clear and concise, simply offer us basic facts that give us the impression that we know something. But, “knowing” is one thing, “understanding” quite another.
The old stockmen used to say: "from the udder’s nipple to the pot...", ( i.e. the cheese must be made immediately after milking). When it remains untreated, fermentation (on which we will elaborate further) starts, with the result that the milk sours, goes bad, and is microbiologically suspect and dangerous. Therefore, we are obliged to pasteurize our milk when we cannot be absolutely certain of its origin.
What is pasteurization?

The peasant woman who knows the physical condition of her goats, taking constant care that they are always clean, can risk making her cheese immediately after the milking- without having first boiled the milk.
Pasteurization starts from the minute we begin to heat the milk. If it boils, all the microorganisms needed to make the cheese flavoursome are destroyed along with the deleterious microbes.
In order not to alter the components which give cheese its natural taste, we heat the milk slowly in stainless steel vats, checking the temperature with a thermometer and the time needed to complete the pasteurization with a timer. With "rapid" pasteurization, the temperature is higher and the time shorter than with the “slow” process. We use one or the other methods depending on the milk at hand and the kind of cheese we want to make. Rapid pasteurization is used for bottled milk and the cheese-processing factories where “ Time is money...”
In traditional cheese-making plants, such as ours in Metsovo, where we know the origin of our milk, we use slow pasteurization in some circumstances and no pasteurization at all in others. With the slower process, we attain good taste results because the components giving flavour and natural aroma to the cheese are not altered at the lower temperatures.
It is a great advantage for a cheese-making dairy to be near the meadows where the animals graze freely or to the stock pens where they are kept. The sooner the milk reaches the plant, the more the danger of its spoilage is reduced. Milk is a vital, natural product. While in the udder of the healthy mammal, it contains no dangerous microbes. As soon as it comes in contact with the environment (air, human hands, transport containers etc.), however, a host of foreign microorganisms grow and multiply therein very rapidly.
How does milk curdle?

The peasant woman who knows that her milk is pure and free of microbes does not pasteurize. To make her cheese, she has only to add rennet- which she usually calls “magia” (the Greek word for magic-presumably because it works like magic). She doesn’t need the help of cultures of microorganisms as these are naturally found in the milk.
According to an old myth, this process of curdling milk with the addition of rennet was discovered by an Arab trader who carried his camel milk in a leather container fashioned from a lamb’s stomach. Arriving at his destination after a long trek through the desert, he found cheese instead of milk in his skin bag! During the journey, the heat and the enzymes from the dried stomach lining had curdled the milk...

Rennet is found in the stomachs of young animals (not weaned from their mother’s milk). From her lamb, kid or calf, the peasant woman collects a curdled milk which contains two enzymes: rennin and pepsin. When she wants her cheese “sweet”, she uses the rennet found in calves. If she does not have a calf, or prefers more “savoury” cheese, she uses that of a lamb. If again, for some reason, she decides to take the rennet from a kid, the result has a very “peppery” flavour.
The flavour and aroma of cheeses made from non-pasteurized milk is natural. In other words, the taste depends wholly and completely on the chemical reactions of the organisms already present in the milk. With factory-processed cheeses on the other hand, the curdling and fermentation are prompted by the addition of cultures and microorganisms which do the job of the natural rennet.
What happens in the fermentation process?

Fermentation starts at the time of milking when the liquid comes in contact with air. In order to understand this process, try to imagine a battle, invisible to the naked eye, raging inside the milk from the onset of the cheese-making process until the time the cheese is ready.
On this field of battle we have:
•  on the one side, microorganisms allied in the creation of good cheese.
•  on the other, enemy microorganisms fighting to destroy the process.
If the allies succeed, the cheese is good; if the enemy wins, it spoils.

The large modern cheese-processing factories transport the milk from very far away, in most cases having collected it already pasteurized. Thus, the “fermentation war” is absolutely controlled from the start and is won easily. The milk, having undergone complete pasteurization, does not contain dangerous microorganisms. All have alredy been destroyed. Cultured microorganism allies enter like “conquering heroes”, and the battle is decided before it’s even begun! The cheese thickens quickly; the salts are added in exact measurements, as are pepper and other spices which give flavour; and , “in the twinkling of an eye”, the cheese has arrived in the refrigerators and store windows of the large super markets. The flavour of the cheeses which are made thus are uniform and standard. These cheeses are rich in appearance but poorer in taste than the more traditionally-made cheeses. This is like comparing bread produced by a large modern factory with the freshly-baked loaf of the local village woman. “ The eyes of the hare are one thing, those of the owl quite another” (i.e. although alike, the one is not truly comparable to the other).

In the small traditional cheese-making plants, which either do not pasteurize at all, or in which the process is carried out slowly, the job is not so easy. Each stage requires special attention, because practically everything is done by hand and harmful microorganisms abound. Of course, the end result is a cheese incomparably tastier, however, because with the traditional way, the original components, such as the proteins and fat which milk contains in its natural state, are not tampered with. The temperature, time, microorganisms, cultures or amount of rennet added vary depending on the kind of cheese being manufactured. If the sour components predominate, the cheese can thicken in ten minutes; if sweet, the process may require an hour.
Once the cheese has curdled, the cheese-maker
(1) dips his hand in the vat and lifts out the solid curd mass that has risen to the surface and has a consistency of yoghurt.
(2) knows that the process is completed when he sees that the curd does not stick to his fingers, as it falls back into the vat.
How the curd is cut?

The next step in the process is the so-called “breaking up” or cutting stage. The solid mass is cut in pieces with special tools called curd-cutters. We have two categories of cheese: the soft like feta and telemes and the hard such as graviera and kefalotyri. In order to make soft cheese, we cut the curd in rectangular pieces. The larger the pieces, the more moisture the cheese contains.
The hard cheese is the more flavoursome and the more difficult to manufacture as well. Influenced by some types of soft French-style cheese, Europeans have accustomed the market to the soft variety of cheese, which is usually processed much more easily, in a shorter period of time and at less expense than the hard. Garlic or onion powder (very popular flavour additives nowadays) is then often added to cover the subsequent flavour weakness. The artificial flavourings, the added vitamins, the gold packaging, the fancy labels which make an impression, do not come cheap.

Let’s leave the processed-cheese however and turn to the real thing. To make hard cheese, we use special tools to break the curd into fine pieces and then heat it, stirring constantly, so that the moist lumps (ranging in size from that of a grain of rice to that of a hazel nut) do not form a solid mass. Our aim here is to draw as much water as possible out of the curd. The cheese maker picks up pieces of curd every now and then and tests them. At the beginning of the process, these are soft and break easily, but as time passes, they become harder and heavier as more and more water is expelled. As the cheese makers say, the cheese “ works” continuously. The beneficial organisms multiply and form an acidic environment in the mass of cheese which helps to draw out the water. To get a better idea of how much water milk contains, only 40 kilos of cheese can be processed from 500 kilos of cow’s milk; only 25 kilos of Parmesan! As we have already mentioned that the milk of each animal differs in its components it is useful to know the following:
* Sheep’s milk is the richest in components. 1 kg of sheep’s milk is equivalent to about 1,5 kg goat’s milk or 2 kg cow’s milk.
* Therefore, to make 1 kg of hard cheese, we need 12,5 kg cow’s milk or 6,25 kg sheep’s ( in other words, about half the amount).

In the cutting-breaking up process, the curd-mass, as the heavier component, sinks to the bottom of the vat and the whey, used to make soft cheese, like mizithra and the other anthotyro type cheeses, stays on top. A special machine then separates the fat from the whey, thereby providing cream from which butter is produced. This is called a “skimmer” because it skims the lighter fat off of the remaining liquid.
We lift the curd mass out of the vat with the help of a “tsantila” ( a linen cloth which acts like a filter straining out the water and holding in the mass.)
At this stage, the amorphous mass has no flavour and resembles flavourless chewing gum in taste and consistency.
Seasoned with salt, it tastes like the Italian mozzarella, so expensive in Italian restaurants in Greece.
How does the cheese get its final form?
Once removed from the vat, the mass of curd is cut warm by hand or by mechanical means and put in molds to give the cheese its final form. The mass stays in these molds for a period of time (depending on the kind of cheese being manufactured) and pressure is applied with wooden presses to draw out as much moisture as possible. When cool, it comes out of the molds and goes to be salted.
Why and how we salt cheese
There are three means of salting: wet, dry and mixed (a combination of the two).
Salting serves two purposes:
  • To keep the cheese from turning bad
  • To enable the cheese to acquire its final flavour.
The cheese firms up because more and more of its liquid is drawn out with salting.
  • With wet salting, the cheese quickly incorporates the salt.
  • With dry salting, coarse-grained salt is thrown on the cheese every now and then and absorption takes place slowly.
  • With mixed salting, the cheese first is immersed in a brine bath (in a bat containing a mixture of salt and water) and then dry salted.
The aging of the cheese

Once the salting process is completed, the cheese is transferred dry to the curing rooms. In this stage, the main fermentation processes which give the cheese flavour and aroma are completed.
These occur in the curing rooms under controlled conditions of temperature and humidity consistent with the variety of cheese being made.
The temperature here must be 6-8 degrees Celsius for the soft cheeses and 15-18 for the hard. Humidity must be 90-95% and 80-85% respectively.
Also, good ventilation in the storerooms is an essential condition for proper aging.
The fermentation process must be done slowly for the cheese to have flavour. “Good things take time”. They must take time (a child needs 9 months in its mother’s womb to come out fully-formed and beautiful...). One can, of course, speed up the aging process with mechanical means, as is done in the ultra modern cheese-processing factories, eager to get the cheese out on the market. The milk goes in the one end of the industrial mechanism and the cheese comes out the other. Already packaged and ready for consumption, it is microbiologically perfect, visually impressive with quality and taste uniformly consistent.
As Greeks say, however: “ The eyes of the hare are one thing, those of the owl quite another.” It takes hard work, time, and special care and attention to make a cheese which makes you smack your lips at the harmony of the natural flavours. (Do you find it coincidental that modern marketing campaigns attempting to compare the “hares” with the “owls”, insist on a label that promotes the product as “ traditional” or “ country-made.”?)