Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Greece: A honey of a destination

Greece, quite literally, is a honey of a destination.

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Athens, Greece from our airplane 2013

As we prepare to return this spring to the Peloponnese, Crete and other yet-to-be-determined places we know the one common treasure we’ll find is their liquid gold. . . honey.

In Greece, honey is infused into soap and shampoo. You can find it in beauty products from face cream to foot lotions. We’ve even used wax balms on our lips – thanks to those industrious bees who produce the honey.

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Feta cheese bake in phyllo then smothered in honey, sesame seeds and onion

We’ve drizzled it by thick spoonful onto fresh-made Greek yogurt for breakfast. We finished our evening meals with complimentary servings of fresh fruit slices topped with it or pieces of cake soaked with it.
While honey is commonly found in every region of Greece, each region’s product has a slightly different taste and characteristics. 

Busy as Bees. . .

As we drove narrow roadways that curled and climbed through the rugged terrain of both the Peloponnese and Crete -- each is a honey producing area -- it became a contest of sorts to spots hives we passed along the way.
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Roadways aren't for the faint-hearted
By the numbers there are some 1.3 million hives and 25,000 beekeepers responsible for the 12,000 tons of honey produced annually in Greece.

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Orange groves/harvest in the Peloponnese

Luckily we will be returning to Greece, during the ‘honey season’ which generally begins in March and continues to the end of November in the southernmost areas of the country.

During this time hives are moved from field to field and slope to slope. The moves provide the seasonal flavors to the honey – orange blossoms in May, wild thyme in July, forests in September and Heather fields in both May and September.  Honey is harvested after the feeding periods to capture the best flavors.

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Wild thyme lines a Crete hiking path
We will be making our fifth trip to Crete – we can’t resist its charms.

Or is it the the thick, hearty thyme honey we’ve discovered in southern Crete that keeps us returning?

It’s a flavor unlike any honey we’ve had anywhere else. We’ve commonly referred to it as our ‘nectar of the Gods’.

Honey of the Gods. . .

However, it was in Poulithro, a coastal village in the Peloponnese – at the Hotel Byzantinon, where we were, last year, introduced to a honey blend so rich in flavor and beautifully colored (an almost pearl metallic highlight) that we understood completely why it is called, “Melithion” which means, ‘honey of the Gods’.


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Melitheon - Honey of the Gods

Christos Kritsidimas, son of the hotel owners, said his family had been buying the honey and serving it as part of the breakfast they provide with a room rental. “The guests kept asking where they could buy the honey. They wanted to take it home.”

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Christos and George Kritsidimas
Talks began with the honey suppliers and Christos, who formerly worked in the banking industry, began Vasiliki, his  new company that produces and markets, “Melithion” and soon other varieties of honey.

“Vasiliki,” he explained has a double meaning. It is both his mother’s name and synonymous with royalty. “We think of this product as the Rolls Royce of honey.”

Melithion is a blend of primarily black fir tree honey dew and Thyme nectar, with combinations of smaller amounts of herbs and local flowers contributing to its unique blend, including Arbutus, Maple, Heather and Tea.

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The Black Fir grows at the 1,500 meter (4,921 feet) elevation in the Mainalo mountain range that towers over the Peloponnese southwest of Tripoli. It’s a distinct species in the fir family and produces a honey known as Banilias (vanilla) – it is the only Greek honey to carry a Protected Designation of Origin. This honey is considered an excellent source of essential trace elements include potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron – as well as numerous vitamins.

“Our particular variety of honey provides a perfect balance in taste with the vanilla being less sweet and the thyme being sweeter,” he explains. “It is delicately smooth in flavor with a butterscotch taste at the end.”
The black fir tree honey dew is a resin produced by microorganisms in the tree trunk. Its production is easily affected by the high elevation’s cold and wet temperatures and the harvest is difficult and costly. For that reason, the production of Melithion honey was limited last year to 12,000 jars.

GreecePt12013 228Since Vasiliki’s inception four years ago, the marketing and distribution of honey has been the company’s focus. Christos has taken the brand to trade fairs throughout Europe and hopes to grow its presence in the United States as well.

Melithion can be purchased on-line at www.elenianna.com, a premium Mediterranian gastronomy shopping experience. For us, it’s another ‘honey’ of a reason to return to Greece this spring!


Linking up:
Foodie Tuesday at Inside Journeys

24 comments:

  1. I didn't know about Greek honey before reading this. Sounds wonderful. My mouth is watering.

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  2. Thanks for visiting Donna. I looked at your blog post quickly as we are off to Greece! More from there - thanks so much for stopping by, it is always so appreciated!

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  3. I haven't been to Greece before. I want to go though especially after seeing your photos!

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    1. Michelle, I can guarantee, you'll love Greece if you come here!

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  4. I love Greece. The food, the music, the wine & Oozo. The history, the vistas. what's not to like? I can't wait for your posts on Crete, as I've never been there.

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    1. We agree on everything you listed Doreen (with the exception of oozo, as I haven't yet got a taste for it) but I sure love Crete's raki and Naxos' citron!

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  5. Very interesting article; makes me want to visit Greece!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Marilyn; hope you do make it to Greece.

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  6. That dish with the feta, phyllo dough, honey, and sesame seeds is awesome. I just don't know whether it's a main course or dessert! Either way, I want!
    Your voyage through Greece and meeting the honey guys looks like a life-changing experience.

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    1. They serve it as an entre, but to my way of thinking it could be a great dessert as well! Thanks for stopping by, Josie.

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  7. You've made my mouth water. I had no idea that Greece was famous for its honey. Enjoy your trip. I'm looking forward to reading all about your adventures!

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  8. This all looks so yummy! My sister and I went to the Peloponnese a couple years ago and loved it. Are you going to Nafplion? (I hope my spelling is correct.) Some of those high twisty roads with the memorials to all of the people who have died driving off of them have really stuck in my mind! Have a great safe trip! I don't know why this is showing me as "anonymous". I'm Kay with http://blondebrunettetravel.com

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    1. Hi Kay, so glad you've been here as you know the wonders we are seeing! Yes, you got Naplion correct - we've stayed there on three previous visits and although hard to pass it up, we went on to Astros. . .and discovered another wonderful little town. So many towns, and so little time, right? Thanks for the visit!

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  9. Lovely story and yummy picture of that Cheese Bake!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Irene - the cheese bake is one of the first things we ordered when we got back here last week!

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  10. Jackie, I'm not a fan of bees as we had a huge problem with them here. But, I'm well aware of all the wonderful good they do. That Feta cheese bake...yes please :) I had no clue that honey had potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. Good post and so excited for your upcoming trip :)

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  11. What a honey of a post, Jackie. I learned something new today. Had no idea honey was such a big deal in Greece. Interesting that they move the hives around to get different flavors.
    Looking forward to learning more about Greece from your posts.
    Thanks for linking up this week. Enjoy Greece!

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    1. Hi Marcia, Sorry I am turned around now that I am in Greece, so won't make a foodie tuesday post (I don't think) this week but will try for next week!

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  12. Honey is probably why the Greeks invented baclava (sp?) - got to use it up somehow.

    I love honey and have actually thought about taking some courses and starting a little backyard hive. Buckwheat honey is my favourite.
    Honey is just one more good reason to return to Greece.

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  13. Hi Jackie and Joel,

    Your tribute to Greece's miracle spread is, indeed, beautiful! I have to admit, once I tasted the honey of Crete, with its infusion of thyme and wild flowers, NOTHING else could compare, and never has. It is such a unique flavour that sometimes I feel that it truly is the nectar of the gods!

    Hope you get to enjoy its naturally medicinal and pleasurable qualities, soon!

    Poppy

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    1. We've had a honey of a trip so far Poppy and managed to get a good helping (or dose) of honey each day! So looking forward to Cretan honey. . .so yummy!! Hugs, Jackie

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  14. Have you made it out to Santorini - that was my favorite destination in Greece so far. Gonna try Mykonos this year. Btw I also just followed you on Twitter. Great blog! Looking forward to connect!

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    1. Hello Mighty Travels, Will check out your blog and definitely follow you back on twitter as soon as we settle in one place for a day or two longer than our overnight stays and quick email checks. Thx much for the follow! (Hope to see you soon among the faces on the Google followers list of the blog as well.)

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  15. Yummy! That is so awesome that you've been able to travel to Greece so many times. I would love to go sometime!

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