Greek metsovone (μετσοβόνε) is a semi-hard smoked cheese that originates in Metsovo, Epirus. It is produced by the pasta filata process (i.e. the stretching and kneading technique used to make Italian mozzarella, provolone and other similar cheeses). Metsovone is predominantly a cow’s milk cheese – one of the few in Greece. It is first processed with this stretching method, then brined and aged for at least 3 months. Finally, it is smoked using leaves and aromatic herbs that grow naturally in the mountains around Metsovo. Metsovone may be made in a similar way to a smoked provolone, but the two cheeses have different tastes due to distinct cheesemaking processes and terroir.
It is not an old traditional Greek cheese since it only came into being in the 1950s when Baron Michael Tositsa, a wealthy philanthropist with ties to Metsovo, and Evangelos Averoff, a local patron, envisioned and built the Τυροκομείο Ιδρύματος Τοσίτσα – the Tositsa Cheesemaking Foundation. The modest buildings are located at one of the high points of the village, close to the old road that linked Metsovo to Trikala (to the south) and Ioannina (to the west).
The Foundation’s initial goal was to provide work for the youth of Metsovo and to help small farmers in the region. New cheeses – including metsovone – and new cheesemaking techniques – such as pasta filata – were introduced. In fact, young cheesemakers from Metsovo were sent to Italy to learn some of these techniques.
Cows and bulls from Switzerland were also imported at that time to improve the local breeds. Alpine-like uplands in the hills above the village are ideal for the herds.
Since its beginning, the Cheesemaking Foundation has flourished and enriched the lives of many in this part of Epirus. Their products are very sought after in Greece and are beginning to be known abroad as suberb artisanal cheeses. In 1996 metsovone was awarded the distinction of “protected designation of origin” or PDO.
Potato & Metsovone Flatbread with Rosemary
Based on the flavours of a smoked provolone and potato pizza bianca I recall from memory. If you don’t have access to metsovone, use a good smoked provolone.
- 25g fresh yeast
- 500g plain (all-purpose) flour
- 325g (325ml) warm water
- 8g sea salt
- 50g Olive oil
- 2 medium waxy potatoes
- 100g Metsovone or Smoked Provolone
- 100g Mozzarella
- 2-3 large sprigs of rosemary
- Additional olive oil and sea salt for baking
Make the dough by wetting the yeast with a little warm water in a large bowl. While the yeast dissolves, strip the leaves from the rosemary and chop finely. You should have about 2 Tablespoons or a little more of chopped herb.
Slowly mix in the flour, salt, water, rosemary and oil until the mixture comes together. Turn out onto a floured board and knead and stretch until the dough is quite elastic and no longer sticky. Clean the bowl and coat with a little olive oil. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with clingfilm or with a plastic shower cap (the latter more ecologically friendly as it will be cleaned and re-used). Set the bowl in a warm place and let the dough double in volume – about 1 hour. Pull the four sides of the dough and fold into the centre; flip the dough ball and cover again for another hour.
Take the risen dough out and place it on a rectangular baking tray that has been lined with oiled baking parchment. Gently flatten the dough so that it is approximately 2 cm (about 3/4 inch) thick, pushing it out with your fingers to avoid stretching. Cover with a clean tea towel and let it sit while you deal with the oven temperature and other ingredients
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (approx. 400 degrees F). This is the fan assisted temperature, so increase heat for normal oven.
While you are waiting for the oven to get up to temperature, peel and thinly slice the potatoes with a sharp knife (or use a mandoline slicer). The slices should be thin enough to be semi-transparent when held up to the light.
Grate the smoked cheese and the mozzarela. Mix the cheeses and take about 2/3 and sprinkle on the dough. Then, cover the dough with slightly overlapping slices of potato. Add a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Take it out and sprinkle on the remaining cheese before returning it to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven when the potatoes and cheese begin to brown. Let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into small squares.
Makes an excellent meal served with a scattering of olives and a tomato or green salad on the side. It is also makes an interesting addition to a buffet table and, next day, it’s good cold.