Day 1: Crete
Arrived the night before in Herakleio and drove across to Rethymno where we turn inland to cross to the south of the island through the narrow Kotsifou gorge. Stayed overnight at Plakias with Stef’s brother and his wife who whip up a delicious supper at very short notice. In the morning the locals prostrate themselves.
Yannos dazzles a fan
Black goats contemplating life
Started on the South coast and went across to Sfakia, dodging endless herds of sheep and goats roaming the roads of the Wild West of Crete. From there we turn up to reach a high plateau in the Leyka Ori to find the cheesemaker Manousos, who showed us the production of his galomyzithra, graviera (coming soon) and fresh anthotyro.
Production, which started at 5am, takes up the rest of the morning, after which it’s down to the kafeneio for a coffee, followed by homemade pitas stuffed with fresh anthotiro and drizzled with honey, and a couple of glasses of raki…
Cheesemaker Manousos and his team in Lefka Ori
This is high-altitude cheese making with temperatures around freezing in winter. Most herds are still down near the cost and come up during the hot summers. An oasis of calm on the island that feels completely untouched.
Manousos Graviera having a rest
We have a rest
Next stop is Michael – one of the very few organic pig farmers in the whole of Greece. It has taken a lot of determination. He was refused permission by his neighbours in the low plains, by his olive groves, to set up a free-range pig farm so had to reach a remote spot, high in the mountains, where he and his pigs could find the freedom they need.
The pigs are rotated on small pastures, seeded with a mix of grass, grains and beans where they can rout around all day under the Cretan sun. Reared to at least 6 or 7 months, they are then slaughtered locally and processed into prime cuts, delicious organic sausages with wild herbs and greens, smoked with thyme and sage or into traditional Cretan apaki by Michael and his son.
Organic pig farming in Oropedio Tavris
We round off the day by visiting uncle Spiros, found lounging in an armchair by the fire, engrossed in a history of Crete, before crossing the rest of the island (500km today) to spend the night in Sitia, right on the Eastern edge.
More unconditional hospitality from Christina’s family (Christina can be found every weekend at Maltby St Market demonstrating much of the same) with a feast of (mostly) Lent dishes – broad beans, unshelled, xigalo (a soured milk cream-cheese) great with the rusks the family is famous for, snails in vinegar and rosemary, raw artichokes, oh and more of that raki..
(to be continued)