History of Greek PDO cheeses
The history of cheese goes as far back as the history of the humankind and is closely linked to the domestication of animals, around 10.000 BC. The roots of cheese making are not sure with certainty. It is very plausible that the first fabrication of cheese happened incidentally, during the transportation of milk in the stomachs of dead animals.
Reports about cheese are found in many ancient and classical texts. From the mythology, it is said that the gods sent Aristeo, the son of Apollo, to teach the Greeks the art of cheese-making while Homer’s Odyssee tells us about the Cyclop Polyphymus and his cheese-making art where he gives descriptions of the cheeses that were maturing in his cave.
The first testimony of nutrition with ruminative milk is found in the Greek mythology. Zeus, who was chased by his father, Cronus, is hidden by his mother Rea in the difficult-to-reach mountains of Crete and he is fed exclusively with milk and honey. Again, in order for Zeus to feed his own son, Hercules, with god-sent milk to become immortal, he made the sky be inundated with milk. Aristoteles and Dioscourides have the first recipes for the production of cheese. In the texts of the ancient comedy writers, we find plenty of descriptions of the cheeses of Greece. In the Athens market, there was a special place which was dedicated to cheese. In ancient Sparta, there was a whole lithurgical ceremony which had at its epicentre, the theft of cheese by young Spartiats to show their talent in stealing.
Cheese-making must have come to Europe from the Areans, nomadic cattle-breeders of central Asia. The art of cheese-making was developed during the Roman times by the Romans, who transferred the art to regions who did not know it yet. In ancient Rome there was a rich market for cheese, enriched by a multitude of aromas, herbs and many flavours, while contemporary texts amaze us with their detailed description of cheese-making.
When the Romans conquered Europe and all the then known world, they taught people the art of cheese-making, and gave them the opportunity to exploit the milk of animals. During the Byzantine Empire, cheese-making in the Greek world was further extended. The few testimonies we have mention the vlachiko τυρί, the myzithras (from where the Mystras-Mizithras region took its name). During Ottoman occupation, the tradition of cheese-making continued undiminished in the mountains of Greece and on the islands.
At the end of the 19th century, the newly-created Greek state’s ministers, and especially Emmanouil Benakis, understood the economic importance of cattle-breeding, and called upon the Greek in origin cheese-maker Raymond Dimitriadis to teach the new cheese-makers of the country. It is to him that we owe the production of Graviera in Greece.
Later on, the important cheese-makers Zigouris and Polihroniadis continued his work, by travelling all around covering the country and teaching the younger generation the art of cheese-making. Later, the National Commission of Milk was founded, with the aim of promoting in every way the interests of Greek milk producers and cheese makers.