Sheep and Cross
Munching on Holy Ground

April, 2000:

Fence pensFamilies with sheep band together around their shepherd every spring for a festival they call a "StÓna" (pronounced stuh-nah).

Gathering the sheep   

On the day of the stÓna, the shepherds begin corralling their flock as they wait for the families to join them.




Families walking to the Stana   

Families take their children out of school for the day. It's a recognized holiday, though it's a different day for each shepherd.

We walked for five miles to one stÓna.

Waiting to go   

The head males of each family position themselves in front of the pens. Assistants wait inside the pens with the sheep.

Waiting to start   

Each man carefully digs a hole for his bucket, then stakes it in place with specially whittled sticks.

Spilling the milk would be a mini-disaster.


Ready, set, GO   

When everyone is ready, and all the sheep are loaded, and the bleating has reached its highest pitch, someone gives the signal to go.


The sheep leap forward, thinking they're finally free of those claustrophobic pens.

Giving them the squeeze   

But not so fast! Men grab their legs and haul them into position.

Ahhh, at last   


After the first sheep get milked dry, the rest of them seem to get the idea, and things go more easily.


The sheep seem to be mouthing: 'Ahhh, at last..."


Pouring the milkEach family has a different number of sheep in the flock, and each sheep gives their own amount of milk. When all their sheep are milked, they begin the weighing.

Knife measure   

They pour the milk in a wooden barrel, then stick a knife in a graduated stick.

When the knife blade just shows above the surface of the milk, the measurement is called out.

Knife Measure

Taking it all down   

One community member is selected as a scribe, and he takes down each measurement.

Adding Rennit   

As the weighing continues, others start making cheese out of the milk.


First rennet, the lining of sheep's stomachs, is added to begin coagulating the cheese.





Elbow Deep   

After time has passed, volunteers squish the curds together with their hands.

Straining Cheese   


They strain them into cheesecloth.

(So that's why they call that stuff cheesecloth!)



Hanging Cheese   

Then they hang the bundle up to dry. The whey will drip into a pot to feed their dogs.

This will make what they call Cas (Kahsh): a dried sheep's milk cottage cheese. (Not like feta at all.)


Cooking Urda   

But wait! It's not over yet.

They pour the remaining whey into a cauldron and boil it. This will make 'Urda,' a even more fattening and yummy version of the sheep cottage cheese.




PriestBlessing the Sheep

Meanwhile, the priest is having a service to bless the sheep. The blessing is meant to help keep them safe from disease and wolves.






Being spring, sometimes it rains.

Unpacking the baskets   


Once the cheese is underway, and the service done, the women begin unfurling their carefully packed picnics.

Deviled Chicks


The band played   

And as they'll tell you, all's well that ends in a party.


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