Farmers’ Cooperative Union
Cheese, wine & ecology
Text: Evana Venardou | Photos: Nikos Zappas
Paros graviera (Gruyère-type cheese) Paros kefalaki, ladotyri (oil-preserved cheese), krassotyri (wine cheese) and Paros souroto (sour cream cheese), fresh myzithra cheese, clarified butter. The Farmers’ Cooperative Union of Paros is bound to tempt your taste buds.
In the creamery we are welcomed by technologist-agronomist Vassilis Tsigonias and a young cheese maker, Marcos Kortianos, an Ioannina Dairy School graduate. We notice that all the staff are young people, eager to work.
As they show us around the refrigerators where the cheeses are placed according to the aging stage they have reached, we are informed that all the products are made with cow’s milk and that the secret to their deliciousness is top-quality Parian milk.
Their products are packed with flavour. Yet, they still get limited response from local hotels and restaurants. “Unfortunately, this culture has not yet been embraced by local businesses. We, on our part, are trying to keep work going throughout the year and export to major cities.”
Why can’t we find their products in Athens, just as we can find, say, Naxos graviera? “Bear in mind that we process over three tons of milk a day, while Naxos, being a much larger island, processes thirty tons! Production limitations would make it very hard for us to meet the challenge of chain store distribution.”
In Paros, the products of the Cooperative are available in every supermarket, local grocery store (such as Diplos) and butcher shop, not to mention the Cooperative’s facilities in Parikia.
Without doubt, the economic crisis has not left the Cooperative unscathed. When the creamery was established in 2001, cheese production rose sharply. And when it dropped from 2006 to 2010 due to a shift to tourism, things got rough. “The current recession in both the tourism and the construction sectors have driven some of us back to crop and livestock agriculture,” they say.
The Cooperative produces four labels: Paros (white and red) and Ekatontapyliani (white and red), alongside a value-for-money wine that comes in a 5-litre box and can be served by the carafe in taverns. All the wines, as we are informed by Cooperative director Alexis Gokas, bear a Delimited Wine of Superior Quality (VDQS) seal. Of all the Cyclades, only Paros and Santorini have secured this certification.
Parian wine has been renowned since the antiquity, and the Cooperative wines are made from two local varieties: the whites from Monemvasia and the reds from Mandilaria.
“In collaboration with the Technological Educational Institute of Heraklion and the National Agricultural Research Foundation, we’ve been trying to preserve the local varieties. In the past, you see, there were a large number of varieties in Paros, over twenty-five. Today, we’ve set up a seed bank for their conservation.”
The Cooperative also owns an oil mill: “We don’t bottle olive oil; we provide services. If the Ministry of Agriculture programme is approved, olive oil crafted by Parian producers will be available in the market.”
AN ECOLOGICALLY SUSTAINABLE UNIT
The Farmers’ Cooperative Union of Paros has a low ecological footprint – most production units dispose of their waste in streams and the sea.
Chemical engineer Timoleon Venetsianos has come up with a method whereby dairy, wine and olive oil processing by-products (whey, wine-making residues and oil milling wastewater) return to the field in the form of a natural fertilizer. Besides the liquid by-products, the fertilizer is enriched with agro-residues, e.g., olive kernels and crushed branches. This may give sufficient motivation for the inhabitants of Paros to collect cut-off branches, grass and the like, and bring them to the facilities of the Cooperative. Besides the fertilizer, this process also gives eco-friendly cleaning products.
That’s recycling to the fullest!