Of the varied mosaic that is Greek food, there is perhaps no creation more beloved than the humble cheese pie (tyropita). You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who has been to this country who doesn’t have fond memories of biting into golden, flaky parcels filled with tangy, white cheese. They’re like a warm hug and a welcome slap in the face at the same time.
They are also ingenious.
The archetypal cheese pie is made of just three humble ingredients: flour, olive oil and goat’s cheese. This minimalism is, of course, the product of scarcity; historically many Greek communities had little beyond these staples for their everyday nourishment. But at some point, lost in the mists of time, someone worked out that if you treat these basic ingredients just so, you could create something that is positively joyful.
Traditional cheese pie recipes are almost stupidly labor intensive: dough is kneaded, then divided into many small balls. These are then energetically and skillfully rolled out into large paper-thin sheets one by one. Each gets a coating of olive oil, and they are layered on top of each other, one by one. The cheese filling gets similar care, flavored with wild herbs gathered from the surrounding hills.
There are, in short, far more efficient ways to consume flour, oil and cheese. But when a farmer, or a shepherd would take a break from his work and bite into his cheese pie from home, with all those thin layers of filo pastry maximizing deliciousness, it would make his labor that much more worthwhile. Love, you see, is baked into the recipe.
Cheese Pies in the Time of Coronavirus
I have been thinking a lot about cheese pies these days. Here at Greece Is, under normal circumstances we strive to produce articles about all the best this country has to offer to prospective travelers.
But these are far from normal times; with one fell swoop, the coronavirus has placed us all under something close to house arrest. Given the situation, at this point in time highlighting idyllic island destinations or mountain resort spas seems to fall somewhere between pointless and cruel.
Luckily, Greece is about much more than destinations. From its deep-rooted wisdom and culture there is a lot that we can draw on to provide, hopefully, a dose of comfort, optimism and inspiration during these trying times.
Like cheese pies.
If the communities of old were able to coax infertile lands to yield, ultimately, something as heartening as a cheese pie, something whose absurd intricacy reveals a world of love and care, then surely we, with a universe of technological sophistication at our fingertips, can rise to the challenges we face.
We are not helpless – neither as a society, nor as individuals.
Science will ultimately prevail over COVID-19. It will take some time, but our experts already know the steps necessary to create and mass-produce cheap tests that will render the invisible visible, allowing us once again to move and socialize without fear. A vaccine will follow, hopefully sending COVID-19 the way of smallpox and polio.
In the meantime, the rest of us have the opportunity to invest every small thing we do with the same love and care that gave us the glorious cheese pie. To take the simple things in our lives and make them as wonderful as we can for others to enjoy. To show that even in the face of difficulties we can create beauty, if only for the hell of it.
Perhaps you were planning to come to Greece this year, but now are not sure if you’ll make it. That is surely disappointing. But just remember that if you have some flour, oil and cheese in your pantry, you already have a bit of Greece in your home, you just need to put it together.
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