There is one particular gastronomic gift from Skopelos to the rest of Greece: its famed cheese pie. Whenever you go to fast food joints or bakeries in Greece, you’ll find the twisted, round ‘tyropitta’ (cheese pie) or ‘spanakopitta’ (spinach pie) marked as Skopelitiki (from Skopelos). So, when you end up on the island itself, trying one is a must.
Of course every family has its own recipe passed from mother to daughter and every household its own way of making the filo pastry or its own mix for the filling. But there is one aspect of the Skopelos tyropitta which is common to every recipe: this pie is not baked. It’s deep fried in oil.
More than anyone else, it is one woman who has been instrumental in defining the taste of this most traditional of products. It’s Nina Kollitsidou, whose home factory at the end of Skopelos Town supplies most bakeries and restaurants on the island. If you eat a cheese pie on Skopelos, chances are you’re eating one of hers.
I really had to meet her.
Nina’s immaculately clean pie-making studio is as sparkling as her smile. Both cheerful and reserved, helpful in explaining and inhibited in talking about herself, she mostly lets her hands to do the talking.
“This is a 100% family business”, she explains. “We make tyropittas, hortopittas (pies with mixed greens), galatopittas (custard pies) and piperopittas (pepper pies), plus assorted sweets. We started the business in 2002 after we realized that more and more people liked my cooking and more and more restaurants wanted us to supply them with our homemade products. Now we are even exporting to Skiathos!”
The pies are, indeed, homemade, for it’s the top floor of her own house that Nina uses as a workshop. There are windows everywhere, letting in plenty of the bright Skopelos sun. There is a stainless steel drum in one corner to mix the dough and a pastry-making machine that controls the width of the filo pastry, operated by her nephew, seventeen-year-old Dimitris. A large kneading bench in the middle completes the picture.
Nina uncovers the dough she’s made already. “We always cover the dough with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t form a crust”, she explains. She cuts off a lump at a time and Dimitris passes it through the pastry machine to produce the filo.
“The filling must be white goat cheese such as feta, but because it is too salty we mix with anthotyro which is a bit sweeter, for balance.”
She spreads the filling over a metre-long filo pastry rectangle and rolls it around three or four times; she then twists that long piece of dough around itself into a snail shape. It is this final ‘snail’ that will be parcel-wrapped and sent frozen to the supermarkets and restaurants.
I can’t wait to taste it.
Nina pours oil into a deep frying pan and drops the pie in before the oil has reached boiling point. “It’s to control the puffing,” she says. The dry filo dough puffs up and if it does so quickly, the dough will crack.”
Nina keeps on stirring and, four minutes later, the pie has turned golden brown and is ready to eat. I cut off a piece and wait for the heat to subside, while she and Dimitris are watching. Despite her success, like every good cook, Nina still wants to hear my verdict.
I take a bite. For something deep fried, the pie is remarkably light and flavourful. “Delicious,” I pronounce and I can feel that she’s relieved.
Now, see if I can get hold of the recipe..
NINA’s RECIPE FOR SKOPELOS PIE (makes 7-8).
1kg all-purpose flour.
2 coffee cups of oil.
One cup vinegar.
One teaspoonful of sugar.
Two teaspoonfuls of salt.
One litre of water but it depends on hardness; as much water as it takes to make a firm dough that
does not stick to the plaster when you roll the pastry.
For the filling: 1kg feta on its own and 1⁄2 kg anthotyro, if you can find it. Any other white cheese
which is both crumbly but not salty can be added to feta, such as mizithra or manouri, although even
ricotta might also work as a combination.
Mix the ingredients for the dough and roll to the thinnest width you can muster. Cut a length about
20x80cm long and spread the filling. Roll the dough 3-4 times into a long sausage. Seal the ends and
twist into a round shape. Fry stirring continuously for 3-4 minutes until golden.
John Malathronas is a versatile travel writer and photographer who has published three narrative travelogues on Brazil South Africa and Singapore, has written for popular newspapers and magazines and co-authored guidebooks for Michelin and the Rough Guides. He also writes in his own blog, The Jolly Traveller.