Kopanisti, Mykonos‘ trademark spicy, peppery fermented cheese, has become one of Mykonos’s best known mezedes.
This soft cheese, stored in brine, with its strong taste and creamy texture, which ranges in colour from white to pale beige, is also made on the neighbouring islands of Syros and Tinos from cow’s, ewe’s or goat’s milk or a mixture and has been awarded PDO status as a typical product of the Cyclades.
Kopanisti is produced in the following way: Initially the milk is stirred well with pectin and warmed in a large cauldron. After 24 hours of rest it turns into thick buttermilk, a substance similar to watery yogurt but with a more sour taste. In the next phase the buttermilk is strained for 24 hours in cheesecloth. The resulting soft cheese (tyrobolia) is used in salads, pie and sweets and its flavour and shape are similar to fresh myzithra (a cheese comparable to ricotta). When this ball is salted and kneaded, over and over, with the addition of a little kopanisti from a previous batch, it becomes a new batch of kopanisti (a word that comes from the verb to pound).
In the account by Mykonos writer Panagiotis Kousathanas, Myzithra Zymithra (Kneaded Myzithra), there is a detailed and mouth-watering description of its making, written in the local dialect:
“Myzithra or kopanisti is a tasty cheese, white and soft, which over time yellows a bit and becomes hotter. It differs every time depending on who’s making it, changing quality and tastiness depending on whether his mood is happy or grouchy. That’s why, if on the rare occasions that Lala Anezos’s myzithra doesn’t turn out well, she puts all the blame on herself and says, ‘My spirits just wouldn’t lift as I was kneading. How Could I expect the cheese to be light?”
And it’s true that kopanisti has a different character which varies not only with the producer’s mood but also changes with the season, the weather, the animals, the temperature, and the milk, as well. Sharp, intense, piquant, rich, milk, bland, buttery, creamy, fatty, sour, sweet, grainy, roquefort-esque, each one has its own ‘personality’ and each one has much to tell us . . .
In any case, everything you ever wanted to know about the cheese is contained in Dimitris Rousounelos’s marvelous new book, Kopanisti, Yesterday, Tomorrow and 43 recipes.