Last August, I went with my family to Greece for the first time, and before I went I sought the advice of Diane Kochilas,the author of “The Country Cooking
of Greece,” about how to experience
yogurt as the Greeks eat it. Without hesitation,
Kochilas told me that the best yogurt
she had ever tasted came from the
dairy of a small producer outside the town
of Argos, in the Peloponnese. Several
weeks later, my husband, my son, and I
were driving along a narrow country
road through the arid hills of the Argolid,
reverently considering the legacy of
Agamemnon and scouring the roadside
for a sign indicating that we had reached
the dairy, Galaktokomika Karyas.
Eventually, we pulled up a drivewayleading to a low, windowless building
the size of a gas station. Theodosius
Mavrogiannis, the owner, was waiting
outside for us, alongside his twenty-twoyear-
old son, George, and three teen-age
nieces. Mavrogiannis invited us to sit
down while George translated his words
into English. George explained that his
father had started the business five years
ago, having worked for other cheese
companies since he was a teen-ager.
George’s father had grown up around
sheep and goats: he was the son of a tsopani,
or shepherd. The family now owned a hundred sheep and three hundred goats, and they also processed milk from neighboring farmers, manufacturing not just yogurt but cheese, which they sold in a small store in Athens run by another son, and in a shop in Argos run by Mavrogiannis’s
We went inside, where Theodosiusshowed me a vat, about the size of a wine
barrel, where sheep’s milk was pasteurized
before being mixed with yogurt cultures.
Then we entered a heated room, the size
of a walk-in closet, in which the milkand-
culture mixture, having been poured
into small terra-cotta pots ready for vending,
was left for several hours to turn into
yogurt. There was no sign of a yogurt separator,
and, after I remarked, puzzled,
on its absence, George explained that
when the Greeks talk about yogurt they
mean the stuff that still contains whey. In Greece, I learned, strained yogurt—what Chobani, Fage, and others market in America as Greek—has another name,straggisto. It was sold not in the traditional
was useful for cooking because it kept in
the fridge for ten days, whereas traditional
yogurt stays fresh for only five. “We use
straggisto for tzatziki,” George said.
Theodosius, having understood that I
was interested in learning about strained
yogurt, disappeared around a door and returned
bearing the company’s single yogurt
separator: a white cloth pillowcase,
complete with piping on its seams. “We
put the yogurt into here, and the whey
drips out,” George explained, while his father
beamed at his innovation.
We went outside and sat at a picnic table underneath a grape vine, while the
nieces brought forth the Mavrogiannis cheeses: a salty, feta-like one, a hard yellow one, and a soft, young one that slid off the knife like Jell-O. A two-pound terracotta pot of yogurt was set in front of us,along with hunks of bread and slices of tomato picked from a patch nearby.
“The sheep eat everything you see,” George
said, reeling off a list that included barley, oats, clover, and vetch.
The mountains surrounding the property looked parched—not at all like the green hills of central New York—and George explained that his family’s yogurtproduction was seasonal. For several months in the summer, their sheep produce no milk; they start up again when the
weather cools and the lambing cycle begins.In order to make yogurt for me totry, he said, they had brought in supplies
of milk from another farm. I had become so accustomed to the range of competingyogurt products on the shelf of my local grocery that it had not even occurred to me that yogurt had seasons, and that the
production of different dairies might, like wine, have a terroir. Theodosius Mavrogiannis spooned his yogurt into glass bowls for us to try, cutting through a thin layer of cream that had risen to the surface
as the cultures did their work. The yogurt was cool and sweet and mild in flavor, with a texture like panna cotta—holding its shape, like a very soft jelly, but still creamy upon the tongue.
It was, as Diane Kochilas had promised, the best yogurt I have ever eaten...
by Rebecca Mead for