Cheese POP & PGI

The cheese in Greece

References to the development of cheese making in Greece exist since ancient times.
According to Greek mythology, the art of cheese making was offered as a special gift to mortals by the Gods of Olympus. According to another legend, the discovering of cheese is attributed to Aristaeus, son of Apollo.
Ancient Greeks thought of milk as a sacred food, as Zeus, chased by his father, Cronus, was hidden with the help of his mother Rhea and nourished with the milk of a sacred goat, Amalthea. Moreover, Zeus, in order to feed his son Hercules with divine milk for him to become immortal, caused a flooding of the sky with milk and so the sky was filled with galaxies (milky way).

God Hermes is ranked among the pastoral deities and is also known as “Kriophoros”, “Millosos (protector of sheep) and “Tireftis” (manufacturer of cheese).

The daughter of Salmoneus and Alcidice, Tyro, was famous “for the whiteness and softness of her body”, writes Diodorus Siculus. Homers Odyssey mentions the production of cheese from goats milk by the Cyclops Polyphemus. The reference to white and soft cheese leads to the assumption that at that time a cheese similar to feta was produced. In Odyssey we also find a reference to sheeps breeding.
Aristophanes, Hesychius, Aristotle and others refer to occupations that were associated with sheep breeding, such as "provatopolai”, “galaktokomoi”, “galaktourgoi”, “tyropoioi”, “tyreftyres”.

The agora of Athens had a special place for cheeses, while the young Spartans used to steel cheeses for the purposes of a ritual celebration, as a token of bravery. Aristotle and Dioscorides described the mixture of goats milk with leaves, while others made reference to the mixing of milk with lemon or vinegar to create cheese.

Greeks in Antiquity bred cows as well, which they sacrificed to their gods. Well known is the myth of Hercules and the stables of king Augeas with the 3.000 cattle. Yet in Greece, only during the 20th century did the production of cows milk begin. The only exception were Cyclades islands, where during the Enetocracy, catholic monks introduced cattle in the Cyclades, in order to approach the orthodox population.

During the Byzantine period, Mystras was named Mizizthras, after the well known cheese. There is reference that during the same period a cheese was manufactured in a way similar to that of feta. At the same time we find the first references to whey cheese (mizithra, anthotyros). During the Turkish occupation there is reference to mizithra cheese. After the Turkish occupation, the newly established Greek state realized the value of livestock and cheese making for the nutrition of the population and under the guidance of Emmanuel Benakis brought R. Demetriades, who made the first graviera cheese, in order to train young cheese makers.