For as long as Greece has been settled, there have been herders working the countryside. They’ve roamed across the islands and mainland, moving their flocks from the fertile plains, through the arid mountains, and into every corner of the country. It’s a part of the rich tapestry of Greek culture and has been depicted in ancient art and celebrated throughout history.
Sheep and goats are the predominant animals that are farmed, largely for their robust nature that makes them able to endure the rigors of the rocky mountains and exposure to the elements. Mules, horses and occasionally cows form part of the herd, but goats are by far the dominant animal. In fact, there’s an estimated 4 million of them across the country! In some places, such as Samothrace, the goats outnumber the humans by 15 to 1.
The main uses for the flocks of sheep and goats are to produce milk, cheese, wool and meat. It’s an important source of income and also as a means to sustain the island populations. This has had a profound impact on the food culture of the country. I’m happy to wager that you won’t find anywhere on the planet with more goat meat recipes or varieties of sheep and goat cheese.
The life of a herder is a hard but rewarding one. They spend long days in the countryside, tending to their flocks, supplementing their feed when times are tough, moving them to find new pasture, and protecting them from wild animals. In the winter months they occupy the valleys, and where possible, as the weather warms, they head for the cooler temperatures of the hills. But despite the toil, for many of them there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.
In season 4 Episode 6 I was lucky enough to spend some time with a herder while in Kassos. You can watch it here: