Mastic tree
COVER STORY

Greek produce, nature’s generous bounty

READING TIME
As long as it takes to eat a Greek salad

Fresh fish and seafood, delicious cheeses, local produce and, of course, wonderful olive oil

If you were to travel all over Greece, crisscrossing it from coast to coast – east, west, north and south – you’d be astounded by the abundance of exceptional dishes and the local products you’ll discover. The best and most distinctive have been classified Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

The list is constantly growing and among these Greek products, some regions stand out but so too do notable producers, who have been careful stewards of the land of their birth. 

The traditional products of Greece

Greek olive oil

The treasure of a Greek diet, olive oil is foundation of Greek cuisine,  enriching the majority of dishes with flavour and goodness. In Greece, you will encounter foods that have not been manufactured by the industrial behemoths often found in the west. The world’s third-largest producer of olive oil, Greece is justly proud of its extra-virgin quality, thanks to the very high standard of its olives. You could think of the country as one big olive grove. The best oils are those from Crete (the areas around Chania-Kolymbari in the west and Sitia to the east) and the Peloponnese (Lakonia, Messinia and the Argolid). Made from koroneiki, athinolia and mavrelia or hondrolia olives, each PDO designation has a different character.

Table olives have also earned PDO classification, such as those from Kalamata, Amfissa, Arta, Rovies, Stylida, Thassos, Chios, Rethymno, Pelion and Halkidiki, which are all perfect accompaniments to ouzo or tsipouro, as well as winter soups and salads.

Picked Olives

Fresh fish and seafood

The sources of Greece’s babbling brooks are high up in the mountains. From there, water picks up speed and nutrients, merging with other streams and forming rushing rivers and placid lakes and eventually reaching the Aegean and Ionian seas. Along the Greek coastline and around the islands are bays and coves, reefs and deep pools that form ideal habitats for schools of fish and other sea creatures.

Fish should be top of your list of Greek products to try during your holidays. Generally, the fishermen remain true to time-honoured methods and their catch is proportional to the size of the area fished, but scale is irrelevant when you sit down to eat the fish themselves. For the first time in your life perhaps, you’ll experience the true taste of the sea.

From mountainside to table

Herds watched over by proud shepherds produce first-rate meat and milk, reflecting the rain-fed grass they grazed on. Nutritious milk is used to make internationally prized Greek yogurt, with its unique silky texture and a range of cheeses that reaches delicatessens around the world. With so many animal farms in Central Greece, it’s no surprise that the delicious tender lamb and kid from Elassona have won PDO status.

Greek cheese

Dairy products hold a special place among traditional Greek produce. Discover the taste of the graviera cheeses from Naxos, Crete and Agrafa, renowned for their excellent dairy products. Other PDO cheeses in Greece include types found nowhere else in the world: the soft fresh anevato of Grevena, peppery kopanisti and ladotyri from Mykonos, creamy manouri and smoked metsovone from Metsovo, batsos from Thessaly, pichtogalo and xinomyzithra from Chania, the Parmesan-like San Mihali from Syros sfela from Lakonia, formaella from Arahova, the easily spreadable katiki of Domokos and, of course, feta.

Greece is the only country allowed to use the name feta for this widely popular sheep/goat’s milk cheese. Imitations abound but they must be called something else. You’ll taste many variations on the theme during your stay in Greece, ubiquitous in households and taverns across the country.

Feta cheese with olives

Bread

A good piece of baked bread is always on the table in Greece – fresh, made of wholesome wheat and baked in a wood-burning oven. It doesn’t matter what you want to try in Greek cuisine, bread is present at all your meals. After all, it’s delicious even on its own: just dip it in a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, top it with some sea salt, and enjoy!

Delicatessen

In the exclusive, high-end range of PDO Greek products, one finds the country’s equivalent of caviar: avgotaraho or bottarga, Messolongi’s contribution to the great delicacies of the world. Then there’s the pale honey from Mainalos in the Peloponnese, which bees make from fir sap only under ideal conditions; saffron from Kozani, collected by hand from endless fields of the mauve crocus; and masticha from southern Chios, which imparts its unique flavour to an ever-growing list of wonderful products, both sweet and savoury, from chewing gum to liqueurs, from baked goods to sauces.

Make sampling these exceptional traditional products part of your mission to discover the real Greece. They reflect the care of their producers and the special nature of the place they come from.

Fruit and vegetable spoon sweets on wooden shelf

Fruit and vegetables

Countless fruit and vegetables have been coaxed from Mother Earth and raised with such care that sets them apart. Among them are apples – the shiny crisp reds of Zagora, diminutive sweet Firiki, both from Pelion and rare, greenish and slightly sour apple of Tripoli. Then there are the black cherries of Rodohori, Naoussa, succulent peaches from the same area of Macedonia, elongated aubergine of Leonidio, dried white figs of Kymi, juicy oranges from Maleme, Crete, sultanas from Corinth and Zakynthos, kiwi of Sperchio, pistachios of Aegina and Fthiotida, and the incomparably sweet fava and flavour-packed tomatoes of Santorini.

Also expanding is the range of organic fruit from well-tended orchards filled with rare heirloom varieties being revived by dedicated growers who would not consider selling them out-of-season.

Take home a taste of those traditional Greek products which are rapidly becoming ambassadors of the country’s gastronomy to the outside world.

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