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Society

Greek Cheesemakers Say Inflation Threatens Livelihood, Industry

ATHENS – If you haven’t tried Greek cheeses, including graviera, you’re missing a treat and more people in the country could be without it because the soaring costs of producing them are making it difficult for cheesemakers to keep going.

They include Yannis Karganis on the island of Naxos who makes that graviera and told Agence France-Presse how difficult it is for him, especially as he’s in his 70’s and inflation is making it too expensive to keep producing it.

“I earn nothing from my cheeses,” he said of the hard cheese he makes that is a particular favorite in the country. “I work day and night and despite this, I still cannot live,” he said.

Inflation hit 12 percent in September before dropping to 9.1 percent in October but the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up not just energy prices but the cost of cereals that farmers use to feed their flocks.

“Last year, a bag of feed cost 14 euros ($14.69.) This year it’s 21 euros ($22.04.) Gasoline has skyrocketed to 2.30 euros ($2.41) per liter at the moment,” he said.

Dimitris Kapounis, head of the union of Naxos agricultural cooperatives, warns that if nothing changes “in the medium term, there will be no more milk on the Greek market, no meat, potatoes, or anything else.”

Graviera has the valued European Protected Designation of Origin label, and is a favorite in a dozen countries including the United States and Germany, but that’s not making up for the domestic costs, makers said.

In 2022 so far, during the waning COVID-19 pandemic, the usual annual production of more than 1,250 tons has already fallen by 130 tons, the cooperative said of the dilemma.

Local shepherd Yannis Vavoulas said the combined rising costs of feed and fuel is causing a drop in milk production and affecting the caring of the sheep and cheese production. “We can’t maintain feeding them properly,” he told AFP.

Some farmers said they’ve had to slaughter part of their herds, which has further driven down milk production, including Yorgos Margaritis, who has 250 cows and said he will have to kill some hwo would have been inseminated to produce calves.

The cost of transporting goods from the Greek mainland is another problem as it takes more than five hours by boat to get from the main Greek port of Piraeus to Naxos, another burden for them.

The Naxos cooperative in April went as far as Bulgaria to buy animal feed, where prices are lower. “If the milk producers are not helped… then we are all lost,” Yannis Kavouras, head of the largest cheese factory in Naxos told the news site.

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