Interview: Maro Voulgari | Photo: Ioanna Fysilani
My grandmother used to make cheese. I loved watching and helping her
Katerina Moschou set up the first private dairy farm on the island two years ago. In this way, the delicious Parian cheeses become ambassadors of the distinct Cycladic cuisine, and female entrepreneurship sets the bar high on the island as more and more modern businesses with women at the helm come into shape and make the grade.
What was it that triggered you to engage in cheese making?
I grew up in Athens but I would come to the island at Easter and in the summer. My grandmother was into making cheese and I loved watching and helping her. She would set a wood fire and make cheese with sheep and goat milk. When the process was over, I would go back into the room, and make believe I was making cheese, as a game. Later, my uncles also took up making cheese. I’ve never lost touch with this practice. I entered the Agricultural University by chance, but if I could turn time back, I wouldn’t choose otherwise. In the second year, when I had to choose a specialty, I got the idea of setting up a cheese dairy on Paros. I worked for DELTA dairy for a while, and then was sent to Cyprus as a quality control manager. It was a big school for me before opening my own business.
And how did your project get going?
When I was still in Cyprus, I decided to save money and invest it there. The economic crisis had just set in. I took a second job and set in motion the launch of “Parion”. Three years later, I resigned and came back to the island.
Why isn’t the Parian dairy industry particularly famous outside Paros?
The reasons, I believe, are two. The first is that local businesses prefer to put cheaper cheeses on their shelves or menus. Some of them source products from small cottage industries and others from the rest of Greece. The second reason is that the island is quite tourist-oriented. So much so, that it is difficult for a local resident to take the decision to engage in some sort of agricultural production. As the seaside tourist zone ensures bigger and easier profits, they prefer opening a café to starting up a cheese dairy.
How easy is it for a woman to set up a production plant on her own?
It can be quite difficult anyhow. When you have to state your opinion and speak out in male-dominated environments, you might be looked down on. It also takes more time to be trusted and taken seriously. It takes patience and, sometimes a bit of cheek too.
What makes Parian cheeses stand out?
It’s the climate. The challenge that cheese production presents, which turns out to be an advantage. The waterless field gives flavour to the fruits, the grass, the milk and, as a consequence, the cheese as well. Here on the island you can taste the most delicious foods, if they are local. The amounts may be small, but the flavours are strong.
What are the new flavours you’ve been working on for the next season?
If everything goes well, I’m planning to make Parian touloumotiri (animal skin cheese) under the designation “white cheese”. For health and safety reasons, it won’t be placed in animal skins, but it will be made using a more modern, cleaner method, keeping, of course, the well-known spicy flavour of its traditional counterpart.