Philadelphia’s King of Cheese used to stock only one Greek feta in his South Philadelphia realm: a pungent and creamy creation of mountain shepherds. A briny curd called Dodoni.
By Maria Panaritis
That’s because Claudio Specialty Foods, like others in the know, considered it the good stuff. A white wonder straight from Greece, where the crumbly cheese made an ancient cameo in Homer’s Odyssey and has reigned ever since.
In a global sea of feta impostors, Dodoni was a sheep’s-milk standout demanded by natives.
“Greeks!” exclaimed Vladimir Hajdari, whose N&E Agora in Northeast Philadelphia is an agora of Grecian fare. “Nobody buys the Dodoni but the Greeks.”
A clash of curds, though, recently sent the blocky brand missing from its choice sales spots in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s largest Greek population centers.
What had happened to the good feta?
The country’s most famous fromage, founded by the Greek government after World War II, had been felled by intrigue and business brass knuckles, against the backdrop of a Greek economy in near collapse:
A government bank on the brink. The Dodoni dairy teetering, too. Russian investors to the rescue. Privatization of Dodoni as Greece went broke. A federal lawsuit in New Jersey. And Philadelphia cheesemongers, like Claudio’s, in the lurch.
“Who owns them now? Is it Greek? Is it Russian?” asked chef and Greek food historian Diane Kochilas. “Even Greeks in the food industry don’t really know what’s going on.”
The case of the missing Dodoni, though, really comes down to this one thing. Greece’s biggest cheese is trying to reposition itself to become Big Cheese in America.