Crete is famous for its cuisine and local products that are always healthy, delicious, seasonal and traditionally made. When you visit the island, you will have a sublime gastronomical experience that you will wish it would never end….and it doesn’t have to! Just make sure that when you leave, your suitcase will contain the basic products that make Cretan cuisine so special, and enjoy them back home.
Cretan olive oil needs no references, as it has already been established as one of the best in the world for its exquisite quality and taste. Make sure you buy certified PDO labeled extra virgin olive oil, and if it’s organic, even better! Cretan olive oil is dominated by the koroneiki variety, distinguished for its bittersweet, fruity flavor and intoxicating aroma. The best places to buy olive oil is in specialized shops that also allow you to taste it, to find the flavor that will satisfy your palate. You can also visit olive oil farms for tasting and learning about the unique qualities, history and traditional production methods of Cretan olive oil.
Cretan herbs can be used in cooking and as a tea infusion. Cooking herbs worth buying include oregano and thyme, that grow in abundance on Cretan mountains and are known for their exceptional local variety. Herbal teas you should buy include the typical Cretan Mountain tea (Malotira), known since ancient times for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and calming qualities; Dittany (Diktamos or erontas), mentioned by Hippocrates as a cure for stomachache and healing of wounds; and Cretan sage (faskomilo) a typical winter infusion for locals.
Cretans have been absolute wine-lovers since Minoan times and like to accompany every meal (well, except breakfast!) with some good wine! In fact, the oldest vineyard in Europe was found in eastern Crete (Kato Zakros), a place that continues the tradition of excellent wine-making. The rich vineyard and ideal climate of Crete is the cornerstone of the excellent wine quality produced on the island. Native white wine varieties include Vilana, Vidianos, Dafni, Thrapsathiri, Malvasia di Candia, Moschato Spinas. Among red varieties, the most distinguished are: Kotsifali, Liatiko, Mandilaria and Romeiko. Of course, the best way to find out which one you like best, is to visit a local winery!
Cretan cheese is an integral part of the Cretan cuisine, and commonly eaten together with olives and Cretan rusk (paximadia) as a mezze for wine or raki. Graviera is the most popular Cretan cheese and the easiest to carry back home, as it is a hard cheese that can be preserved outside the refrigerator for several hours. Graviera is produced from sheep or goat’s milk, and is characterized by a mild, spicy flavor and intense aromas.
In antiquity, honey was the most common sweetener and in our days it has been proven to be one of the healthiest too! The famous Minoan gold jewelry depicting two bees depositing a drop of honey in a hive, proves its long history and use in Crete. The most common honey produced in Crete is thyme infused, known for its excellent quality and for bringing the scent of Cretan mountains into your home!