We should all be so fortunate to know exactly where our food comes from.
One of the best things I got to do while in Ios was sampling the cheese at Diaseli Cheesery. It is a traditional cheesery that was a perfect “half way” marker of my commute from the port of Ios back to the house in Tres Klisies. The cheesery has been in the owner's family for generations, dating far beyond the times when tourism was a critical part of the island's economy. Back to when the little island was a difficult place for families to carve out a living.
This was one of my favorite small “Farm to Table” photo shoots I have done. Outside of the main building where the cheese is made and stored, one of the old stone family homes still stands. Built from the rock of the island, it is still decorated as it would have been when the family's main focus was livestock and cheese. The rugged house was carved from a rugged landscape, drumming up thoughts of what their lives would have entailed. Those who have visited know the landscape of Ios is a no-frills place. To live here full time would have been an existence of fortitude and hard work.
Those genes were obviously passed on, but nothing was more evident than the love for the product that also made its way down the bloodline. I have never seen such beautiful cheese. And along with its beauty, this cheese held some flavors I have never tasted in my life. And I fear the only way to taste them again is to return to the house high on the mountain.
They use all local ingredients in their cheeses. The milk comes from their own personal farm, as well as a collection of local farmers. Herbs on the island are used to bring out some of the more subtle flavors. Herbs that the goats themselves eat give flavors to the cheese. And when combined with the herbs in the cheesemaking process it creates a flavor that is delicious in a balanced way. Flavors that exist in nature together, flavors that should be together.
Their herbal Ricotta soon completely replaced feta on every Greek salad I would eat. Having tasted the high life, there was no going back.
Though their own personal farm was not operating due to the time of year, we were going to shoot one of their friends and fellow farmer (as well as absolute legend) Yiannis. Using the active farm and goats to actually show what a real working Ios farm looks like we were going to give the full “picture” on why it is so much better to buy food with a true local connection.
I rode my scooter to meet Yiannis at 730 a.m., timed to shoot him doing the round of milking in the morning before letting the goats out for the day. I arrived in shock. I’d stared at his house every day on my ride to and from Tres Klisies. I had stared at it every day because in my calculation, it had to have the top sunset view on the entire island.
My introduction to Yiannis was near biblical. I have worked on different farms my whole life. In that time I have never seen a spectacle quite like Yiannis walking at me, sun at his back, cigarette dangling from his lips, navigating 240 goats, all while in a worn out pair of flip flops. With this man as my model, there was no other option than great success.
Yiannis showed me how they methodically get all the goats behind the milking stall. He and his sister have a connection with the animals that is obvious. Those goats love this man, and trust him even more. He put out his cigarette on the wall, and sat in his seat. Goats all around, he kicked off the morning milking. It was one of the most wholesome scenes I have ever seen through my viewfinder. As he milked, the goats nuzzled his head, played with his hair, and cozied up all around. This right here, this is why that cheese was amazing.
There was no stress in this process. The animals were truly happy, and truly loved. That is what makes good food. And that is how you tell good farmers.
These are the stories I am trying to emphasize more in my shoots. Sharing the beautiful plate that will end up in front of someone, but also showing the farm where it comes from. There is a different connection to what is on the plate when its backstory is understood. That backstory can be the deciding factor, as it often is for me, why one food is chosen and not the other. It just takes a little bit of extra effort to make sure that backstory is shown under the same adoring light as the final plate itself.