Kopanisti is the traditional spicy cheese of Mykonos and the surrounding Cycladic islands. It is a traditionally produced, pink, spicy cheese that owes its piquant properties to fungal growth. It is made on the island of Mykonos as well as in the surrounding Cyclades Islands, such as Tinos, Andros, Syros, Naxos and a few smaller Greek islands of the central Aegean Sea (Cyclades), as well as some parts of Turkey. Kopanisti is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese for the area of the Cycladic Islands. Kopanisti in the Greek language is used to describe something that has been beaten. In kopanisti cheese this refers to its preparation technique. Traditionally, in Mykonos, this cheese is homemade by farmers from raw goat and sheep’s milk, although some people also use cow’s milk or a mixture of these in varying proportions.
It is said that the milk in the Cycladic Islands is very tasty due to the variety of wild herbs and grass that livestock graze on, especially in springtime, which gives some very interesting notes and tones that add a depth to the flavor of cheese. In making kopanisti in the traditional way (using raw milk) or after pasteurizing, the first curd or tyropygma/τυρ?πηγμα, which in Mykonos is called tyrovolia, is formed by adding rennet, either commercially produced or obtained from the stomach of animals. This is then salted well (about 500 g of salt for every 10 kg) and is pressed in cloth sacks by using heavy stones for a few days, after which it is hand-kneaded or kneaded in a mixer and left for a few more days, covered with clean cloths in order to increase its temperature due to the fermentation of the superficial bacteria, such as penicillium and the lactobacilli that contribute to a process reminiscent of the fermentation of blue cheeses.
After this, another round of hand-kneading is required for the cheese to acquire a pasty texture. The next and final step is to store the cheese in a large traditional ceramic jar or in plastic containers found in modern creameries. Kopanisti requires 45 to 60 days to ripen to its tasty, spicy, rich flavored, pasty, buttery and creamy consistency. It is a difficult cheese to eat in its raw form, as with the most blue cheeses. For the Mykonians and people in Cyclades, it is one of the best meze that accompanies ouzo – the traditional Greek aperitif. It is usually served on a small slice of bread with tomato and olive oil, or with grapes, figs or watermelon. Mykonians have been known to make the taste milder by adding glina (pig’s fat).
Kopanisti has made on the island of Mykonos at least for the last 300 years and was the most popular cheese for Mykonian sailors to take away for their long trips around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The reason is because it could last for many months or even years without refrigeration. Kopanisti seems to be very precious for the Mykonians, so you can find it among those things that mothers and relatives would give their girls before getting married. It can be found in the markets in the Cyclades and in a few shops in the Athens area. Overall, however, cheese production has declined as more people leave agricultural work to work in the field of tourism and hospitality. Exports of the cheese have declined sharply in the 1970s. Agriculture, livestock and farming in general are difficult to maintain in the islands due to weather conditions, with strong meltemi winds, lack of feed and poor land and especially the scarcity of water in conjunction with the ever growing demand mostly for tourist uses.