Greece is blessed with an exceptional, mild climate. The soil is fertile and rich in nutrients. The tradition of cultivation is centuries old and the knowledge of husbandry and production of fermented products is recognized worldwide. A great many Greek products have been honoured with the distinction of Protected Designation of Origin.
89 Greek products in all have so far been awarded this honour, including 20 different cheeses, 27 olive oils, 23 vegetables and pulses, 10 different varieties of olive, Cretan rusks, the traditional Messolongi avgotaraho (salted flat-head mullet fish roe), several varieties of honey, sweet beverages such as the Naxos citron drink and kumquat liqueur from Corfu, "Tomataki Santorinis" (cherry-tomato of Santorini), Kozani crocus and tangerines and mastic from Chios. The list is impressive and is being added to every day. In order to get to know Greece, one needs to be initiated into its vast wealth of fine wines, garden vegetables, accredited dairy products and aromatic fruits.
The wine of the people
Viniculture in Greece even predates legend - many were born in praise of wine. Already in ancient times it was the custom to distinguish amphorae containing wine for commercial sale with labels indicating region and producer. Wine was a product of paramount importance in the whole of the ancient world, and certification of its place of origin was considered vital. The Dionysian orders, which were charged with the responsibility of the wine production, enjoyed great respect and many honours. In Byzantine times the tradition continued unchanged. Wines were transported to the farthest reaches of the empire and beyond, becoming a cultural element of great importance.
Greeks viticulturists and wine producers respect this tradition and continue it with great care and loving attention to detail. A large number of Greek wines have won awards and enjoy protected designations of origin classification. Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly, Attica, Peloponnese, Crete, the Ionian Islands and almost all of the islands of the Aegean have their own liquid treasures and protected designations of origin. Traditional grape varieties, and newer ones well acclimatized to growing conditions in Greece, produce excellent quality raw materials. It is characteristic that many Greek wine labels have earned international awards in very demanding competitions, honouring the longstanding wine-growing tradition of the country.
In regional Greece, together with extensive knowledge of wine, there is a particularly well developed tradition in the art of distillation of spirits. Ouzo, tsipouro, raki, these clear, highly scented strong drinks are the hallmark of Greek celebrations on any occasion. Traditional distilleries and modern manufacturing facilities continue an ancestral tradition, with great knowledge and devotion.
Almost every corner of Greece boasts its own version of fine distilled spirits. Specific flavours and slight variations in distillation methods create the distinct character of each area. The sweeter, smoother ouzo of Mytilene (Lesvos), the more intense ouzo of Macedonia, the aromatic raki of Crete, ouzo and ‘tsipouro’ in Tyrnavos have subtle variations of the transparent and crystalline. The quality of all of these is excellent and all that remains is the mood of the moment and a choice to be made as to which one best matches it.
Olive oil – liquid gold
Olive oil is perhaps the most characteristic product of Greece. Greek cuisine is inconceivable without olive oil. The most exceptional varieties of this great product have gained worldwide recognition. Twenty-seven labels from across the entire range produce in Greece have Protected Designation of Origin or a place of honour as products with Protected Geographical Indication. Crete, Laconia, Lygourio, Kefalonia, Olympia, Lesvos, Preveza, Rhodes, Thassos, Samos, Zakynthos, Thrapsano, Agios Matthaios, and Troizinia, are all places that have been recognized for their great contribution to the culture of olive oil and have won numerous distinctions.
Table olives with Protected Designation of Origin – the caviar of the vegetable kingdom
The best varieties of Greek olive tree give us this wonderful delicacy - the table olive. With a powerful taste, olives accompany Greek meals as an appetizer, and are also used to add flavour to various dishes.
The famous Kalamata olives, the ‘conservolia olives’ in brine produced in Amfissa, Arta, Atalanti, Evia, Stylida, Volos and the savoury ‘throumpes’ (black wrinkled olives) of Thassos, Chios and Crete have been honoured with Protected Designation of Origin status. The variety of colours, sizes, texture, and flavours of each type of olive is unique. Each tree bears a different fruit. What they have in common is their high nutritional value and of course, the pleasure of eating them.
Grapes – putting the sun in our diet
Corinthian sultanas and currants are one of the most ancient products of the Greek land. The modern science of nutrition now recognizes its beneficial properties. Corinth, and the entire Peloponnese, is considered the birthplace of this unique, sweet product, which is used in traditional cooking and baking. The Zante currant produced in Zakynthos also has Protected Designation of Origin status.
After the harvest, the grapes are spread in drying barns, under the strong, summer sun. In this way all the nutrients are concentrated in the grape, fermented in the sunlight. The delectable taste of this food is only rivalled by its nutritional value.
Dairy products with personality
The long tradition of animal husbandry in Greece is reflected in the exceptionally high standard of its dairy products. Strong cheeses, with exquisite aromas, incorporate ancient knowledge and practices. Twenty types of cheese have to date been awarded the Protected Designation of Origin certification. Formaela, the hard yellow cheese from Arachova near Parnassos, which is suitable for frying, sfela (a strong tasting white cheese) from Mani, San Michael (a yellow cheese) from the island of Syros, katiki Domokou (a low fat soft white cheese), xynomyzithra (soft cheese) from Crete, Agrafa graviera (hard yellow round rind) cheese and, of course, feta, are just some of the finest cheeses appreciated and preferred both by travellers who come to Greece, and by those who can find them in their own countries in their own local markets.
Fruits, nuts, flowers and essential oils - gifts of the gods
The exceptional quality produce grown in the Greek countryside has been recognized both for its nutritional value, and for the excellent care taken by Greek farmers.
The Kozani crocus, this beautiful flower with its bright purple colour, provides the saffron which is collected and packed in standardized packaging with great care by Greek farmers. It is the stamens which give the characteristic aroma, flavour and colour to foods and sweets, and it is also considered to be one of the secrets to longevity. The antioxidant properties of the saffron place it firmly in the “super food” category.
Beans are a legume or pulse widely cultivated in Greece since ancient times. Many varieties have been accredited as Protected Geographical Indication products, including the Prespa "elephant" and "megalosperma" legumes, Kastoria gigantes (giant white beans), and the common "mesosperma" beans of Kato Nevrokopi. Nevrokopi potatoes are also recognized for their high nutritional value. The famous Santorini fava split peas are also a protected designation of origin product.
The ‘Tsakonian’ eggplant variety grown in Leonidio, various varieties of apples, oranges, kiwi fruit, Naoussa peaches, Rodochorio cherries, figs from Vravrona and Kymi, pistachio nuts from Megara and Aegina, and Chios mastic are just a few of the many gifts of the Greek soil which have been accredited with the Protected Designation of Origin classification. The same applies to the wonderful pine forest honey from Mount Mainalo, the ‘avgotaracho’ fish roe of Messolonghi, and the traditional Cretan rusks.
Greece, with the distinctions it has won in the production of products with especially high nutritional value, is a leader in the world market, but the true way to enjoy the real aroma and taste of all these gifts of nature, is to travel in this magical country.