Do you know how Cretans make rakí?
Rakí is the traditional Cretan spirit that is famous throughout the country for its very high alcohol content and its richness of aromas. Rakí is so intrinsically connected to joy that even its making procedure sets Novembers in Crete on fire!
At the end of summer, the infinite vineyard of Crete generously offers its valuable harvest to the special century-old procedure of making the renowned Cretan rakí, a procedure that remains unaltered through time: the Cauldron feasts (called kazanemata).
Rakí (or tsikoudiá) is much more than the aromatic nectar of the Cretans; it’s their loyal companion to happiness, sadness, meetings with friends, dances, festivals.
No wonder the feasts of rakí making are the mega autumn event in Crete. Travel there in November and visit the mountainous villages of the hinterland to see the farmers in the act!
Pulped grapes - called tsikouda or strafylla - leftovers from wine-pressing are stored to go through a process of fermentation for 20-40 days. They are subsequently poured into the cauldrons with water. Boiling i.e. distillation starts right away before your very eyes!
In just one hour the first rakí starts falling in small drops; it’s very strong, almost pure alcohol! Little by little, distillation passes through several alcohol percentages to reach its minimum number at 18 degrees. That is when the cauldron is put out and hot rakí urges everyone to careless dancing.
Tables are set early enough. Luckily, it is Cretan food guests will be treated with: small pies of all kinds, kalitsoùnia (sweet mini cheese pies), dácos (the traditional hard Cretan bread accompanied with tomato, mizithra cheese and plenty of virgin Cretan oil) snails boubouristì (popping fried snails), sausages, gruyere cheese. Barbecues bend under the loads of meat.
Cretan products lend their touch of freshness to the table: chestnuts, pomegranates, apples and quinces.
The rakí “orgy” has just begun with friends, guests, even passersby lifting their glasses to toast, and wishing well to each other. Instruments start play; hearts warm up; arms open; spirits are high! Big Cretan men lead the dance, while women and men alike sing traditional songs. People exchange smiles, banters, good feelings.
After all, that is what Cretan culture is about and that is exactly what rakí is about: to bring people back to the age of innocence, directness, authenticity.