CHEESE-MAKING STATHORI: FROM CHALKIDIKI TO AUSTRALIA
The Thessaloniki International Food and Beverage Fair (DETROP) was over and Stathoris family from Ierisoos, Chalkidiki had every reason to smile more than the other exhibitors of the event. A few hours ago the company’s stand at the international exhibition had been awarded for the strong characteristics of the traditional architecture and the presentation of the dairy products of Stathoris family.
Once again, “petroto” the hard goat cheese that the family produces as well as oregano gruyere, agiotiro, anthotiro had worked wonders in front of the public, competition committees and exhibitors. Yiannis Stathoris the owner of the company together with his wife had started their way back home to Ierissos. Suddenly, and while they had arrived at the exit of Thessaloniki Yiannis said: “I know what we are going to do next year in Thessaloniki! We are going to break records! We are going to make the biggest goat cheese in the world!”
In 2011 Stathoris family presented to DETROP a rock of goat cheese weighing 939kg which has no equal in any other part in the world, thus securing the name of Stathoris a place in Guinness Book of Records that is unbroken until today. And how could it be broken, since the previous record was 200kg. The world’s biggest goat cheese took 6000 liters of goat milk and special modifications to the dairy unit, even a special order of chantilly to produce the giant “petroto”.
“I have an idea”
This was certainly not the first time that Yiannis Stathoris came up with the idea of an impressive solution that could elevate the dairy company. In fact, the first time he “had the solution” he certainly didn’t imagine that it could lead him to the great leaps of the company, the spread of its wings across the mainland of Greece, the first steps to the German and US markets and the current planning of “reaching Australia”.The goat cheese “petroto” , the trademark of the company since 2006 , and the phrase by Yiannis Stathoris “I have the solution” was meant to be the two most decisive development keys for the continuous and upward course of the company. “And just imagine that we were a farming family, we cultivated the land”,states Stathoris.
The Stathoris family made the big turn to animal farming, realizing that after a four-year drought the debts from farming 1200 acres of grain were steadily multiplying every year. The father of Yiannis Stathoris, Dimitris and his mother Maria decided in 1986 to buy animals and by looking for procedures and programs the found themselves in the prefecture hall of Chalkidiki.
An informative poster of Dairy School of Ioannina οn the wall in the office made them prompt and convince their son, Yiannis, to study there after high school in order to “learn how to make cheese”. Two years after Yiannis returned from Ioannina, the family having bought 120 sheep of Chiotiki breed, sold a “ good field” and a new tractor to pay off half of the bank debt. The rest of the debt they could manage to pay off many years later when the cheese factory was well on its feet.
“In the period 1986-88 we had a sheepfold at the location “Xeropotami” and next to it we built a small creamery to make yoghurt. The difficulties were innumerable, with the most important being that we had no electricity. On a daily basis, we were processing 200-300 kilos of milk. We were curdling the yoghurt to a makeshift oven using a gas appliance power we took from the car battery. And when we brought it in we had to wet the floor to be cool so we could lay out the cups of fresh yoghurt. We sold our product in Ierissos and local markets in Chalkidiki.”
From this small creamery that finally managed to get electricity from the side of Tripiti, Stathoris Cheese Factory was born, even though it was unable to continue its operation in Xeropotami because of the confrontation with the investment tourism plans of the new owners of the neighbouring facilities. Back then it had only one employee in addition to the family members.
The five-year period 2000-2005 found the small family dairy in a whirlwind of operational problems but the owner investing fully in what he knew how to produce well: Cheese. The whole of yoghurt production was now channelled to the local markets of Thessaloniki and Chalkidiki. And he may not have obtained the required licenses, he may not have had an investment budget but his mind was working incessantly to get out of the deadlocks and the daily grind of life. “Τhen we thought of the solution to take the animals and the creamery from there and we were looking to buy in another area..”
“To build our own business”
At that point the village priest advised him to “find a permanent settlement and everything would fall into place”. And so it did! Once again Yiannis had the solution with decisive changes. One time while he was driving in the wee hours of the morning from Ierissos to the local market of Kassandria, he returned back and suggested the family to stop being animal farmers. “We should just keep the creamery, get rid of the animals, buy milk, make yoghurt and find a field from where no one can move us” Within a week 200 sheep and 15 cows were sold. And the solution he was looking for was right next to his eyes.
Returning to Ierissos from the local market of Sikia he entered the house and said to everyone that the had the solution, he had found a field. It was located behind a hill, only a few meters from the provincial road Pologiros-Ierissos, the same place where today Dairy Stathoris operates. In a short time the first 500sqm of sheltered area and the first production line of the cheese factory with 5-6 workers was a fact. Before Easter of 2005 the company moved and its members became processors. As producers of yoghurt, cheese and their derivatives, they processed one ton of milk per day from animals in Halkidiki. Three years later the family no longer went to local markets since they had acquired their own points of sales and promotion in Chalkidiki, throughout Macedonia and Mount Athos.
The day they created the weapon
It was a day in 2006 that largely determined Stathoris’ family future. John was working late in the afternoon in the cheese factory curdling goat’s cheese when he asked his wife ,Eleni ,for a large chantilly (the traditional cotton cloth of farmers and cheesemakers) in order to drain the crud into it and tie it crosswise, exactly as they make cheese at homes. The image of the uneven feta cheese coming out of the chantilly was the trigger in Yiannis’ mind. “And why not provide it that way? In this traditional form?”, he thought. This cheese originally came out in the local market and people welcomed it enthusiastically “I knew he said, that we had created a strong weapon”
In a short time, “petroto” goat cheese, straight from the chantilly and difficult to produce, because it requires more hands, was on the counter in all the supermarkets that stocked Stathoris Cheeses.Today, the dairy factory processes 30-40 tones of milk on a daily basis and all of it is directed to the production of “petroto” goat cheese, although everybody thought that one tone each day was the maximum of “petroto” production.But they hadn’t considered the solutions and new patents of Yiannis Stathoris that gradually led to the largest daily production of cheese and the new second expansion.
The 5-6 employees of 2005 in Stathoris Cheese Factory in 2010 became 10. The yoghurt and “petroto” goat cheese have acquired some new followers: petrotaki, aristotelio, acanthus, olive oil cheese, oregano gruyere, mizithra, athonitiko, ayiotiri, 4 cheeses with flavors of Asia Minor (products of memory for the Asia Minors refugees- grandfathers who drove the family to Ierissos).
Stathoris and Mount Athos
The Stathori family since the time of grandfather Yiannis has Athos Mount as a point of reference. “Even our surname includes the word “atho” (Stathoris)”, Yiannis often says to close friends to underline the family’s chronic ties with the Athonite state. In periods other than fasting periods the company mainly sells yoghurt in Karyes and in many other monasteries in Ayios Nikolaos, Mount Athos. Since 1996 Yiannis Stathoris is personally supervising the delivery of small quantities of products. The origin of relations stems from the long stay of grandfather Yiannis as a gardener in the monastery of Iviron, the second monastery of Mount Athos.
A new product of the company ,which is a white cheese made out of 50-50 sheep and goat milk, refers to Mount Authos and the family name. This will be intended mainly for export. With this addition the family approaches 20 codes in the market and 35 employees on the production lines. The company has already increased its facilities by another 500sqm and a new showroom- shop- tasting room. Now the milk comes from 150-170 farms located from Sithonia up to Asvestochori, Thessaloniki.
The most important thing is that the youngest generation of the family, Michalis, Dimitris and Maria add new dynamic to every line and perspective of the cheese unit. Dimitris has even set up a microbrewery in the area.
The exports of Dairy Stathoris only hold a small percentage of the annual sales of 6 million euros but its future is promising. The US, Germany and Sweden, are countries in the markets of which Dairy Stathoris already has presence and prospects. Australia is the next export target but mainly for sentimental reasons as it was the country where Yiannis Stathoris was born during the two years when his parents had emigrated there in search of work.
Editor: THANASIS TSINGANAS
Version in English: LINA TSINGANA