Ios is part of the Cyclades Islands, just an hour by ferry from Santorini. In the past few years, it has become a cult destination for thousands of twentysomethings who fill the island's discos and bars all summer long.
But if you leave the beach resorts and head inland, it is like stepping back into an earlier, more rustic past. The island's interior is filled with uninhabited mountains covered in low brush, crosscut by ancient stone walls and steep curving cart tracks: this is the land of goats and shepherds.Some five thousand goats roam this harsh region and just twenty producers continue to produce the island's rustic local cheese: Niotiko.
As a matter of fact, this is a cheese with no name: in Greek, Niotiko means 'from Ios.' In a country such as Greece - first cheese consumer in Europe (24 kilos per capita) - where every island produces its own cheese, all the local varieties are inevitably distinguished simply by their provenance. Niotiko is a simple rustic cheese. Raw goat milk is mixed with a splash of sheep milk and curdled with goat rennet, often handmade from the goatherd's kids.
The preparation technique is as simple as cheesemaking can get: the curd is broken with a forked wooden stick and left to settle to the bottom of the vat. Then it is collected with a slotted scoop and piled into hand-made molds, with as little pressing as possible.
After salting, the cheese is left to age in a stone cellar. The leftover whey is mixed with fresh milk and boiled to make mizitra, a fresh, soft, ricotta.
Niotiko's flavors recall the aromatic herbs of the Mediterranean scrub: wild sage, thyme, and pine. It also offers slightly mineral notes, underscored by hints of the salty sea air of the Cyclades. This round cheese has a deep yellow crust and a white curd. Niotiko tastes pleasingly rich with a creamy consistency. After two or three months in the cellar, it develops a fuller taste. Niotiko is an essential and simple cheese, both in production and in flavor. With its sunny, wild, marine flavors, it perfectly expresses the characteristics of the island of Ios, and can be aged for an exceptionally long time at warm temperatures. In fact, Jason's Argonauts may well have eaten a cheese like this on their long voyage.
Photos — Archivio Slow Food