6th of Aufust and The Grapes Are Alive With the Sound of Cicadas!!

Μεταμόρφωσις του Σωτήρος

We are in the heart of summer in Crete and at last there is a feeling of euphoria despite the economic situation of the country. The beautiful heat of the summer that admittedly came late this season brings warmth in the daily routines of the people. There is nothing more pleasing than walking around the island and get confused from the thunderous noise of the cicadas. A noise that assures that summer is here for good and nature needs to sing. A music that it is impossible to imagine summer without. In Crete at least. This melody also signifies that we are in a period where grapes are starting to mature.

The 6th of August in particular is a date that holds a specific significance in the culinary traditions of the island. On this day the Orthodox Church celebrates the Transfiguration of Christ. In other words there is the celebration of the apocalypses of Christ to his disciples that He is the son of God. This celebration holds a significant importance for two main reasons. First it falls right in the middle of the “Small Easter” in Crete, which is a term used for the 15 day lent period starting from the 1st of August and ending with the Assumption of Mary. Because of the importance of this celebration the Orthodox Church allows the consumption of fish which is normally forbidden during fasting. Thus traditional Cretan recipes use ingredients that highlight fresh fish. Okra with fish such as sea bream or sea bass, haddock with tomatoes in the oven, anchovies marinated with parsley, onion, olive oil and vinegar are only a few examples.This is one of these special days where people meet on the street and wish blessings to each other for happy and prosperous years to come.

The second important reason the 6th of August holds a significant role for the people of the  island is that today the first bunches of grapes are cut. In the morning mass farmers bring a few of their grape production in church. The priests gather them in front of them in big baskets and after a few blessing wishes they are offered to the attendees. Once the mass is over the priests go together with the farmers in the vineyards where a blessing takes bless with holy water. Once the ceremonial rituals are finished the farmers can start with the years harvest if the the grapes are mature enough.

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There is a large number of villages in Crete that have churches dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ out of which a very large number have Christ as the protector of their village or city. To be completely honest i am trying very hard not to think of at least a section of a church in a Cretan village that is not dedicated to Christ. One of the most characteristic sites that celebrates the “day of Christ” as the locals call it is the mountain of Youchtas or Giouhtas. A place of former worship towards Zeus today celebrates the Orthodox King of Heavens and thousands of believers go to the 800 meters tall mountain top in order to pay their respects. On the night before the walking trails that lead to the top and the church look like snake bodies made of light due to the lightening devices people hold in order not to loose their path.

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Religious beliefs walk hand in hand with the culinary culture of Cretans. The 6th of August is one of these days that highlight the relationship between the natural and the divine. A visit in any of the rural villages will pay out your time and effort. Besides the cicadas will bring you a sense of euphoria anyway. If you decide to visit any of the Cretan villages in the evening the music of the cicadas will change into the Cretan folklore music that will perk the village squares.

Ten of the Greatest Books in Food Studies

Although this is not a post about the culinary culture and tourism of Crete here is an article with culinary culture books that are really worth your time!! Enjoy reading!!!

Tropics of Meta

pakistani desi chicken manchurian Chicken manchurian, desi style

In addition to taking over America’s public imagination – isn’t everyone a “foodie” these days? – Food Studies has firmly established itself as a serious academic discipline over the past decade. While the majority of popular food studies books fall into one of three categories (single commodity histories; explorations of individual ethnic foodways; and often problematically universalist and racially and class- biased works of food politics), many of the best critical works view the study of food as offering the possibility of a radically cross-disciplinary and trans-national re-engagement of key topics in studies of the Americas. This list offers some of the most important texts that examine food through the lens of topics that are central to disciplines such as History, English, Cultural Studies and American Studies: race, class, gender and identity, immigration, community and diaspora, social and labor history, empire, globalization and state formation.

M.F.K. Fisher,

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Animals, People and Crete: Because of Cecil

It is not hard for someone to notice the digital noise that take place in the internet world because of the murder of Cecil, the emblematic lion of Africa. A noise that nonetheless is surprising if one takes into account that there are thousands of similar murders being done like this for even sillier reasons. Expensive shoes for example. Fancy lady bags. Cozy furs to show off. The dialogue became dramatic because the murderer (it is perhaps the lighter expression i can used for someone that hunts for fun) made a choice to kill an animal that was considered emblematic for a nation, a scientific community and a world renowned university. Unfortunately though the killing of animals such as Cecil, takes place on a daily basis for shocking reasons, with shocking brutality and a shocking empathy from the rest of the world. However the relationship between animals and humans, or better say humans and nature was always one based on mutual respect and a balanced co-existence. Crete is an island where this balance was essential. I say WAS because what i am about to describe does not reflect modern Crete 100%. So i will use the murder of Cecil, being king of the animal kingdom, in order to express my opinion on animal-human relation based on times of the past.

Antiquity

From the times of Minoans animals used in Crete had a very special role. Some were considered sacred while other were considered hard workers and excellent companions. snakes for example were animals that were thought to bring luck in the household. The Godess of Serpens, one of the most emblematic images of the Minoan world, was depicted as a female statue holding one serpent snake on each hand and was considered the goddess of fertility.

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Minoans were also famous for the Tavrokathapsia.  A sport like ceremony dedicated to Posidon (God of the Seas) where athletes were performing acrobatic acts on bulls. The bulls (in contrast with other similar sports today) were not required to be killed since they were considered important animals. It was a bull that gave Minos the power to become King of Crete on the day the division of kingdoms between him and his brothers (Sarpidon, Radamanthis) was decided. It was also a bull that was the choice of Zeus’s transformation in order to kidnap Europe and bring her on the shores of Crete. Let us also not forget the Minotaur, the emblematic creature that lived in the Labyrinth. The bull was such an important animal that its horns was the symbol of the Minoan Kingdom.

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Later Times

We have described in previous posts that animals were hard workers for the people of Crete. Cows were animals meant for the fields. Plowing could not be done without cows and their loss meant a catastrophe for the local farmer. The “couple” or zevgari-ζευγάρι as it was called because there were always two, was also responsible for the time of barley harvest. One of their jobs was to pull the heavy “volosiros-βολοσυρος” in the threshing floor so all the wheat seeds could come out from their shell.

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Hunting was never a popular activity in Crete. It was certainly done, but it was never popular. On the contrary it was mostly part of the necessity for survival and it involved the killing of very small animals. Rabbits and grouses were the most popular animals for hunting. However the land of Crete was (and still is) very fertile and there was little to no need for hunting in order to ensure survival. Eating meat was more a festivity food. Taking a life for food was not simply an act of bravery and skill. It was an act that highlighted the importance of life and taking one was part of pleasing the gods or guests. Even today when a shepherd kills a lamb on a guests name is in order to honor him/her with his most precious of products. It is not to showcase bravery, nor manhood.

Every household in Crete had a goat, chickens and bunnies that were all part of the household. Treating them properly made sure the family would survive even at hard times. Most of them were killed for food only when they were too old and could not be productive anymore, or in special occasions. In the rare occasion a family owned a pig, the gathering of the entire village was required for its killing and every participant had the chance to take a peace in order to celebrate Christmas.

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Today

Unfortunately today in Crete this balance between nature and culture is not so evident. Stray animals are a huge problem on the island that demonstrate the lack of basic understanding of ownership and responsibility. The past times were sure more brutal than they are today in terms of how immediate and raw the killing was, however it was done with respect and honor towards the animal that until the end was the responsibility of an entire household. Taking care of animals was a lesson learned from a young age.

Nowadays in most parts of larger cities of the island the meat and where it comes from is as impersonal as everywhere in the world. The same applies for the shopping of products that derive from killed animals. The disgusting image of Fur shops every 200 meters on the north coast of the island proves there is little to no concern on the amount of animals literally murdered for their skin. The God of the 21st century hears by the name MONEY and the sacrifices required are many more than a pig for Christmas.

I am not sure whether i should call this article a culinary tourism article, a excuse to complain, or a gentle way to show the urgent need to bring back to our everyday life the balance required for a life with values and respect. Cecil was a lion in Africa that has a sad end and caught the attention of millions around the world. What about the massive killings of seals, whales, bears, crocodiles and so on? What about the hero status of protagonists in shows in History channel that kill animals for a living regardless of the purpose? What about the monstrosities that take place in world countries in the name of culture?

People in the past had no idea how insignificant they were in comparison to the universe that surrounds them, yet gave every respect to the co-inhabitants of this marvelous world. Now that we know the universe is so vast our insignificance is terrifying, we became more brutal and violent towards our host and “roommates” than ever before.

From a culinary perspective i must say i do not think going vegan is the way. Nor is it to deny our cultural values and beliefs. Educating ourselves though from a very young age is. Putting ourselves in the right perspective and sense of belonging certainly is. Understanding and coming close to nature definitely is. I am afraid Cecil is not going to be the last dead animal due to unlimited human stupidity and greed. Lets hope though that people that result in such actions will slowly feel the frustration and fury of the rest of us.

Top 3 Lamb Dishes in Crete

Crete is an island that despite its unique geographical location and huge coast line that at times seems endless is a place with flavors developed around the mountains and hills of the island. As we have explained before the people of Crete were not very fond of the sea. The constant attacks from different enemies that wanted to conquer the island, as well as, the difficult conditions of life for people in the cities close to the shore made life very difficult. On the other hand the hills and the mountain tops offered a safe and relatively productive environment for the people to maintain a descent life through agriculture and herding. Meat for the people of Crete was a celebrational dish! Animals were workers and active members of the society which meant that if you killed your animal for food before it was time, the household would loose a powerful source of income and an important hard working member. Therefore meat consumption was limited to game, poultry, and lamb or goat. Lamb was a good protein source because usually there were more than 1 lamb in one family, thus loosing one did not mean the end of the world. So today we will present you the top 3 lamb based dishes in Crete according to tasting crete.

1) Antikristo- Αντικριστό

The number one dish in Crete when you talk about lamb is Antikristo. The name derives from the cooking method which literally means “across the fire”. This technique is very popular among the mountain areas of Crete where lamb is the predominant economic source. Shepherds cook lamb this way because it is easy to prepare and cook. The only thing you need is fire and salt. Before you place it across the fire you make sure you place salt everywhere.

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The next step is to place it across a large fire and just let heat do the rest. Some more gourmand pallets will often smear the skin with olive oil with a branch from rosemary. Similar cooking techniques are used in Latin America as well. The idea behind it is that it does not need constant attention, so the shepherds could go about their business and occassioanlly through a look at the food. Secondly slow cooking makes the meat soft, while salt dehydrates it resulting to a crispy skin. Perhaps an interesting note is that this is a dish that is prepared and cooked by men. If you come across one of the places they serve Antikristo do not miss the chance to try this exquisite delicacy.

2)Tsigaristo- Τσιγαριαστό

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Another Cretan dish based on lamb that epitomizes simplicity is Tsigariasto. In this dish lamb is prepared on a frying pan. In older times meat that was not consumed on the first day was “refreshed” on a frying pan with the addition of olive oil and a little bit of onion. This way it could be served again in order to be consumed. Today Tsigaristo is prepared on a frying pan or a pot. After you saute the onions with olive oil you add the seasoned meat and let it cook in slow fire for about an hour. In case the meat is from the day before the time of cooking is much less. At the end you add a bit of lemon and hey presto!!

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3) Lamb With Golden Thistle- Αρνακι με Ασκολύμπρους.

In contrast with the Αντικριστό- Antikristo, this recipe is one that requires the experience and elegance of a lady on the stove. This dish is the ultimate celebrational dish and the one that combines the majesty of Cretan nature, the meat protein basis of the Cretan diet and the skills of an experienced cook for the egg-lemon sauce or fricassee.

The golden thistle or as scientists call it Scolymus hispanicus is a flowering plant that has been used in cooking and medicine since antiquity. It is a type of chicory and it has thorns which make it hard to pick. But as always in nature, what has thorns means it has nutrients. Its use has been very popular in Crete despite the fact that the plant grows in other parts of the Mediterranean also.

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Combined with lamb it is the perfect Sunday lunch food. Here is a recipe from a very interesting Greek blog :

Ingredients:
1 kg askolymproi cleaned (which means that if you find them not whole you need more)
1 kg lamb meat
3 scallions
1 medium onion
Half cup oil
2 eggs
2 lemons (juice)
Salt
A few sprigs of dill or fennel (optional)

Execution:

Peel the Askolymprous and wash very well. Saute the onions and scallops with olive oil in a pan and add the meat. When changed color, add salt and add refreshing water. Bring to boil over medium heat until meat can be pierced with a fork. Add the askolymprous (and dill or fennel if used) and some water if needed. Set to boil until the roots are thoroughly softened. Usually Askolymproi need  more time than lettuce, spinach and generally tame grasses we use at fricassee. Once the ingredients are prepared remove from heat.

When you are ready beat the eggs until they become a homogeneous fluid, and add the lemon juice slowly and steadily (make it look like a thread) without stop beating. Once you are finished with the lemon add the broth from the meat and askolymproi preparation. Make sure the broth is not boiling hot but warm.  Once your fricassee is ready return it to the pot where you kept the meat and greens. Shake well  so the sauce can go everywhere. If the food is not warm enough place it back to minimum heat so it gets warm but be careful not to loose the sauce from overheating.

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Enjoy!

Thoughts of a Culinary Traveler in Crete at the time of Crisis

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In this political and economic mess we find ourselves in Greece one cannot but start thinking of alternative ways in order to make a living since conditions can and will go only worst. Pessimism is the conquering feeling that derives mostly from the disappointment betrayal creates. Because i think most Greeks at the moment feel betrayed in one or the other way, let alone scared. Within this emotional framework there was an urge to search of the past and try to figure out how did people manage to survive, prevail, evolve and eventual conquer during their harsh times. It is indeed impossible to compare the economic size, nor the interdependence that economies are characterized with. In earlier times each country was responsible for its house economics and if it went to hell so be it. Nonetheless times are hard and a stroll in rural areas of Crete are a good starting point for reflecting and generating ideas on what next.

Any person that enjoys nature, regardless of the extend of his/her culinary orientation, will be astonished by the green color one comes across in the mainland Crete. Endless fields of olive groves and vineyards are refreshing to the eye in the summer heat. It can even be surprising considering Crete being an island. Every few meters there is pick up track parked on the sides of a dirt road. It only takes a few seconds before one can notice a head, covered with a huge hat in order to create as much shadow as possible, pops out from a vineyard. Now is the season to prepare the grapes before harvest. It only takes 2 more week before the harvest begins.

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A little further there is a melon field or “bostani- μποστάνι” as we call it in Greece. The melon field looks more like a garden with a variety of different seasonal products planted for domestic use. Zucchinis, aubergines, cucumbers, melons, young onions, and tomatoes are making the plants heavy. The local farmer throws a look and when he realizes there is no danger he cleans a cucumber and passes it to me in order to calm the thirst. The natural continuation of this gesture after me thanking him is a small chat. In this conversation the advice emphasis is on the urge to pass on knowledge of nature because young generations are going to need it. “You will need to know these things for your children” he says. “All the things you take for granted will make your life harder. Things will change and you must be prepared for everything. Even if you will not have money you will be able to produce your own food. This knowledge is what will keep you alive”. I could not but smile and agree. What does it matter if you know fifty different aspects of philosophical and empirical analysis if you cannot produce basic food?

The road leads to the small village. It is around 11 am and all households are finishing their lunch. The small alleys and cobbled roads that work like a maze around the central square of the village are a perfect combination of white from the calcium walls and a million colors from all the flowers on the yards and patios. Add the million different shades of green from the basil, the oregano, the lemon verbena, the apple geranium, and the marjoram and the picture is complete. You see for the Cretan –nikokira/νοικοκυρά/ εν οικο κυρα- lady lord of the house (as would more appropriately be used in Greek language). The doors are open so the air current can make the house cooler, and they are all covered with this special curtain from rubber stripes to prevent the flies from coming in. The sound when walking in these alleys is constant and pretty much the same. It comes from the spoons when they hit the casserole as the food is preparing, the bubbles from the boiling sauce or water, and the women talking. To my ears this is music.

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As a consequence the smell in these alleys is a mixture of herbs, roses, jasmine and something that is cooking. Most powerful this time of the year is the tomatoes sauce. Now tomatoes are at their best and farmers bring it in large amounts in order to make sauces for the winter months. Every so often you will see the house ladies come out of the house in order to pick some more basil in order to enhance the taste. If they see you, they will always greet you with a smile and gentle look. One of my favorite images is an older lady coming out of the house with her hands freshly washed cleaning them on their apron in order to come and pick one or two branches of basil so they can continue their magic in the kitchen.

No matter how you turn in this labyrinth of alleys you end up at the meidani-μεϊντάνι the village square. The dizziness all the aromas and the summer heat create is obvious to the regulars of the local cafe or kafenio-καφενείο. The image of all the elder men sitting under the shadow with a coffee and/or a cigarette quickly makes you aware this is the boiling pot of everything that goes on in the village. From politics, to farming information, to gossip, to philosophy this is the place to be if you want to find out about the place you are visiting. Stories, myths, legends, songs, traditions, and culinary heritage starts and ends here. Once you are spotted by the locals you have to spend some time in the kafenio. They will buy you the coffee and ask you about where you come from and what business brings you in their home. After all, as Kazantzakis says, for the Cretan the guest is a small God. Naturally the conversation is around politics and how the recent government has handled the situation. Perhaps for the first time in recent history there is a unanimous call that this years income from harvest and agricultural production is going to hell. A million examples come up and another million opinions unfold. A good guest is and must be a patient listener. It does not take long before people start leaving in order to attend to their wives calls for lunch. It was also my call to stand up and continue my day.

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My reflections on this walk were that regardless of what is going on around life goes on. It does not ask questions. It does not care what you think or believe about life, politics and economics. All that across my way emphasized me with the most emphatic way that i need to start learning the basics. I need to go back and appreciate the given, small, happy moments of life. That woman that came out with to pick up her basil did not ask questions. She did what she had to in order to make sure there is enough food for winter. Not only that, she did it with flavor and gusto regardless of her problems of health, family issues or whatever.

A walk like this helps you put some things in perspective. It is not so much the romantic, traditional, rustic character of the village life that might calm the soul of the visitor. Neither the smells and aromas from every household that make your heart full of butterflies and your mouth drool. It is the simplicity of life we realized we lost. Sure this does not mean you need to forget what you are doing, neither to stop chasing your dreams and hopes. What needs realizing though is that perhaps all we need to do is understand that the simpler we make things the easier we will go through this mess.

The Cretan Chesses and 5 Suggestions

Making goat-cheese on Crete,1955.
Making goat-cheese on Crete,1955.

After the introduction of the Mitato the conversation naturally turns into cheese. For people of Crete cheese is a very important product. It is used in every meal in different shape or form. Plain, in pies, on pasta, as a desert, cheese is always on the Cretan table. It is offered as in all life cycle occasions, from happy moments of marriage, or children’s christenings, to simple treats as a welcoming to guests, or to funerals and memorials.

The Legend

Sheep and goat keeping in Crete dates back to the myths of the antiquity. Zeus was brought up by the mythical creature Amalthea.. Some people claim that Amalthia was a goat, some others that she was a Nymph that was guarded by a golden dog. Amalthia was thought to be the daughter of either Okeanos (Ocean), Ilios (the Sun), or King Melisseas and sister of Melissa (Bee) that together provided Zeus with milk and honey. Amalthia was always thought to be a good nanny that loved Zeus like a son and took excellent care of him. Myth has it that she put the cradle of Zeus on a tree so Kronos would not be able to find him neither on earth, sea, nor sky. After Amalthia died Zeus turned her into a star so she will live forever and never be forgotten. Both the horn and the skin of Amalthia were considered holly objects that gave the holder great power and wealth.

Today

Since then animal farming in Crete has not changed. It is based on small animals (goats, sheep) while cows are few. Cretan cheese in contrast with other parts of Greece is produced from both sheep and goat milk. The majority of the Cretan cheeses are 50% sheep milk and 50% goat milk. Because of this they contain a lot of vitamins Α, Β1, Β2, Β3, Β6, folic acid, as well as basic minerals and aminoacids.

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Another very important aspect of Cretan Cheese is that the milk is coming from animals that are free grazing. The climatic conditions of the island allow shpherds to have their animals free throughout the year on the maintains or pastures of Crete and feed on wild plants, herbs and bushes. 

Cheese making in Crete has two facets. The home made cheese and the industrial made cheese. Industrial cheese making is a standardized that is followed based on the rules and regulations by the EU. Modern cheese making units are doing an excellent job and try their best in order to make high quality products that are suitable for markets outside the island.

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Home made cheese making has a different story. Shepherds, as well as, families that have excess milk are using cheese making techniques in order not to loose the milk. These kinds of products are rarely found in markets. They are mostly consumed in the house they are made. There are several ways to make cheese at home. The most popular is the Mizithra making which we will talk about later.

My guess is you are probably looking forward to read about the cheeses so here we are.

1) Kefalotiri- Κεφαλοτύρι

This is a thick slightly yellow cheese with small holes and a salty, spicy, and a little fatty taste. It is not exclusive to Crete but used in other parts of Greece also, however the one from Crete is the most known for its quality. Kefalotiri is made from goat cheese or a mixture of goat and sheep cheese. It has 40% fat and maximum moist of 38%. You can eat it on its own or add it in any recipe the requires cheese. In reality it is the cheese that is never absent from the Cretan house. In some cases they will even serve it as a desert with with honey.

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2) Graviera- Γραβιέρα

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Graviera is one of the most widely used cheese that matures in the caves of the mountains of Crete and escorts all the aspects of life of the Cretan people. The taste is slightly salty and it is easy to notice a buttery feeling that is full of proteins. The highest quality arrives from sheep milk alone. One head weighs from 6 to 25 kilos. Graviera has 38% moisture, 38.5% fat and 1.5% salt. The maturity type of the cheese is between 3-5 months. You can eat it in every possible way, raw, cooked, with fruits, with honey, in pies or plain with bread. It is also the most popular cheese for the making of the Greek Saganaki (fried breaded cheese). Perhaps an interesting story that surrounds Graviera is that its making was the result of a shepherds education in Switzerland. The story has it that the king of Greece at the end of 19th century send his cow attendant to Switzerland in order to study cheese making so he can benefit even more from the cow milk production. After he finished his studies he returned with the knowledge of how to make Gruyere cheese. When he got old and finished with offering his services to the king he returned to Crete and used the sheep milk in order to produce his own cheese that he named Graviera. Between the realms of urban legend and a true story it is an interesting approach on the similarity of the name.

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3) Mizithra- Μυζηθρα

Mizithra is a cheese that is mostly used in cooking and every house lady knew how to prepare it. The process is extremely simple and particularly interesting. Fresh milk is put to boil. Immediately at  the point where the milk starts rising the cheese maker throws in a cup of vinegar (depending on the ammount of milk) and the milk instantly starts to become pieces (gets cut is the loosen expression used in Greek). Then there is the collection of these pieces into a cloth or very fine net so it keeps them together while loosing all the juices. Sometimes the cloth would be placed in straw baskets and kept hanging until all the moisture is gone. This is why Mizithra often comes in these cute basket like shapes. Today cheesemakers stop the process of cheese maturation with the addition of rennet (pitia). Mizithra is soft and fresh with little to no taste. It contains 70% moist and 50% fat. Mizithra can be enjoyed in pastry cooking and it is an excellent combination with fruits and honey.

homemade Mizithra

4) Tirozouli- Τυροζούλι

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The result of Mizithra maturation and dehydration with the addition of some salt is Tirozouli. This is a small tasty white cheese that goes great with wine or raki. It has the same characteristics as the mizithra but it has less moisture and the flavor is more salty than the mizithra. It is soft and smooth with an intense bite because of the acid.

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Anthotiro- Ανθότυρο

This is another white cheese with soft texture that results from the mixture of cheese milk and fresh milk. It has a maximum moisture of 70% and 65% fat. It is made of goat milk and sheep milk. The addition of salt during its maturation dehydrates and hardens the cheese, which makes it ideal for pasta. The name Anthotiro comes either from “anthos-άνθος” which means the flower of cheese or from the word “athos-αθός” that means ash and refers to the color of the cheese during its maturation. Consider it a Cretan parmigiano regiano. This cheese is a symbol of festivity since it is served on weddings or other important celebrations together with pasta boiled in the goat or sheep meat stock.

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The above cheeses are the most important representatives of the Cretan cheese making and eating culture. There are several more like feta for example that are popular, or even a lot of cheese spreads we will talk about in a different post. So enjoy!!

A Taste of Music: The Houdetsi Journey

Houdetsi

We are in the heart of summer and Crete is full of great events, celebrations, festivities and parties. Despite the fact that many people will come to the island in order to visit the fabulous beaches and the lovely refreshing waters, these festivals are another good reason to visit the island and enjoy its treasures. Among these events is the celebration of music that takes place in Houdetsi. A lovely village right in the heart of the island that transforms into an ethnic music capital for a few days. Let’s grab the opportunity in order to introduce you to another lovely little corner of our island.

Location

Houdetsi is a village located between hills where the green color of the vineyards and olive groves combines perfectly with the bright light gray color of the naked rocks as the sun light reflects on them. It is build in an altitude of 440 meters and is only 23 km away from the city of Heraklion. Today it numbers around 900 residents and its among the most popular in the area. The fresh running water of the close by springs, as well as, the location of the village between rocks create the illusion of seclusion under the high chestnut and walnut trees.

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History

The oldest mention of the village is in a contract of 1279 by a Chandax (Heraklion name during the Venetian Rule) notary named Leon Marcello. The name on the contract is Casale Tudeti which is probably a bad mention of the name Chudetsi  which is not uncommon for the time. In 1379 it is mentioned in the archives of the Chandax Ducat as Chudeci, while in 1939 it is referred to as Cudeci “feudum” de Christo of the franciscus et Donatus Cornaro, that request the eviction of Andrea Micael Cornaro from the village windmill.

Paul Faure suggests that the name of the village derives from the Arab word guds which means saints. Nonetheless archeological findings of a 1952 excavation in the area brought to light a Athena statue with a helmet, as well as, aqueduct pipelines of the Hellenistic period. Further research and excavation discovered parts of idols and zodiac signs of the Meso-Minoan era.

Modern Times

Despite the evident existence of a settlement in the area for thousands of years, Houdetsi never stopped being populated. Its location and the feeling of seclusion and tranquility it creates were functioning as a magnet for rich people of Heraklion that visited the area in order to spend their vacations. Back then beaches were not a popular location. Places with endless green and light mountain breeze were little heavens in the summer heat, plus they were locations close to the working fields for the busy summer months.

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Houdetsi though was also popular fro its music tradition. The area produced great musicians of Cretan folklore music, as well as, instrument makers. This worked in favor of the choice the world famous ethnic musician Ross Daily made to locate his music workshop there. A choice that brought the the village in the attention of world renowned musicians through the Houdetsi Music Festival.

Every August the village floods with people that come for music. Houdetsi transforms into an ethnic New Orleans for a few days. You find musicians in every corner jamming ethnic tunes out of their heads. Visitors come across images that are strange as much as they are romantic. One of the strongest images i hold in my head is when i came across a girl in the middle of the day playing the flute under an olive tree in the middle of nowhere. She was sitting as if she was meditating, with eyes closed enjoying almost gratefully the shadow of the tree, rocking back and forth on the melody of her flute. You can’t but stop and listen, even if you are not fond of this music and a need to remain invisible is generated inside you. There is no need to interrupt this harmony of man and nature. And then the evening approaches and the events start taking place. From concerts, to simultaneous performances, and music theaters Houdetsi brings a new dimension in the concept of Ethnic. A concept that feels almost familiarly exotic. This year the festival is between the 6th and 9th of August. You can find more information on the website: http://www.houdetsifestival.com/

The Flavors

However this is a food tourism blog so we need to mention that despite music there is a concert of flavors in the area during these days. Across the main street of Houdetsi there is an organization of an open air market. Small retailers that create their own products set small kiosks and offer their products to visitors. Some retailers own shops in the big cities or near by villages as well, but due to the amount of visitors, they find a perfect opportunity to expand their markets. There are others though that only make products for the day. Local delicious flavors the availability of which are only for the day. From quince pies, to sweet tomatoes and fresh walnut cakes, to different types of cheese, fresh produce and freshly picked herbs, the Houdetsi festival is the perfect meeting point of music for the ears, as well as, the mouth and consequently for the soul. Even if you remain hungry the local tavernas are more than happy to welcome you. One of them serves best lamb chops you can ever hope for.

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Finally, if you manage to get there a little earlier to do not miss a visit to the amazing Tamiolakis winery. There you will have the perfect chance to learn everything about modern wine making from a couple that has done a fantastic job combining high end french wine making techniques with amazing local varieties. The result is a mouth full of aromas that ooze the uniqueness of Crete. One more advantage this winery offers is the chance to speak with the winemakers themselves and find out what passion and science really means when we talk about wine making.

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The advice we can give at the end of the day is not to be afraid to try. Look at the products taste them and if you like them buy them with no fear. Maybe you will not get a label of EU standards, but you will definitely get flavors that match global levels of nothing less than delicious. Enjoy the music and smile. Concerts and events are free of charge so pick a spot and let your self go in the mosaic of Ethnic sounds and original Cretan flavors.