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Greek food news and views

The Greeks are not known for their fine cuisine but it can be healthy – plenty of salads and olive oil. Dishes are mainly borrowed from the Italians and Turks but Greek has enjoyed something of a revival and supermarket shelves display their share of Greek-style yoghurt and cheese while the Mediterranean diet is world famous for its health benefits. Chicken is cheap, lamb delicious, omelettes wonderful and Greek yoghurt and honey out of this world.

Feta cheese board
Fine facts about Feta

Feta is the best known of Greek cheeses and considered a healthy option when it comes to choosing cheese. Feta dominates the Greek cheese market, accounting for 70% of all sales and the name is now protected by EU law. If it says Greek feta, then it must be made in one of the Greek regions of Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly, Peloponnese or the Greek island of Lesvos. Most Feta is made from a mix of goat and sheep milk, is easy to digest and a healthy alternative to cheese made from cow's milk. Not only is it rich in nutrients it tastes pretty good too, though some don't like the nutty, salty flavour. The flavour comes from the pickling process with the tangy taste enhanced by the brine solution which helps to preserve it. Texture depends on age with young cheese more creamy and older having a more crumbly texture. The firmness, texture and flavour vary with the region of manufacture with Feta from Macedonia and Thrace more mild and creamy while that from Thessaly and Central Greece is stronger and more robust. Feta from the Peloponnese is dry, crumbly and strongly flavoured. The texture, flavour and smell of Feta depend mostly on the local sheep and goat breeds as well as the crops on which they feed. The best Feta cheese is aged for four to six weeks and cured in a salty whey and brine. The typical Feta flavour gets sharper and stronger with age. It is creamy white and dotted with small holes. Barrel-aged Feta is considered the best of all with the cheese aged in huge oak barrels for a medium texture and sweeter taste. Feta is kept in brine until sold, and packaged feta will usually include some brine. Store it in the liquid to keep it fresher for longer, and it could last up to three months in the fridge, but it's best enjoyed while fresh and turns sour and yellow if exposed to the air. Usually used as a table cheese, Feta is popular in traditional Greek salads of onion, tomato, cucumber, peppers and olives. Greek also use it liberally in spinach pie (spanakopita) and it delicious with roasted red peppers and pine nuts. If you don't like the salty taste Feta can be washed in cold water to remove the brine but the salty tang can improve the taste of a cold beer or white wine. Health experts point to Feta as a rich source of calcium and potassium and its lower in fat than cheeses made from cow's milk. Feta is also rich in vitamins A, B2 and B6 and an excellent probiotic which is good for overall gut health. But it's not all good. Fetas can also be high in saturated fat and sodium. Eating saturated fats can raise cholesterol and sodium can increase the risks of heart disease. Fortunately, as Feta, is such a strong tasting cheese a little goes a long way or you could opt for low-fat Feta which has about a third of the fat of the standard product.

Ouzo glasses on taverna table
Enjoy a glass of ouzo

A Greek holiday is not complete without enjoying a glass of ouzo, Greece's national drink. Ouzo is a liquorice flavoured alcoholic drink that can be served as an aperitif or enjoyed after a meal. For many years ouzo was considered a drink for the older generation but nowadays it has picked up a cool reputation among the young. Like wine, ouzo is made from vines, but it's mainly the leftover grape skins and vine stems that are distilled into a strong, sweet, liqueur-like alcohol with a high proof. The liquorice flavour comes from the addition of anise but other spice and herbs are often added that ouzo distillers prefer to keep secret. Ouzo comes in different 'grades' and the method of distillation, as well as the quality of the ingredients, can result in a different taste from each manufacturer. The drink is said to have originated on Mount Athos in Halkidiki when14th century monks made the first ouzo. It began to be made in quantity on the northeast Aegean island of Lesvos around 1830 when Greece won independence from the Turks. And in 2006 Greece got an EU Protected Designation of Origin accolade, winning exclusive rights to the name. These days, if it is bottled and sold as ouzo, then it must have been made in Greece. Drinking ouzo in Greece is has plenty of cultural baggage, often being served in the late afternoon or early evening. The Greeks will always add cold or iced water to ouzo when, like other anise-flavoured drinks, it turns a milky white. Adding ice cubes directly is not recommended as it can really in crystals forming on the surface of the drink. Ouzo is meant to be sipped slowly and savoured one time; a small glass will often take an hour to drink. Ouzo is also rarely drunk without food and is usually served with 'mezedes' or small plates of bread, cheese, olives, octopus, sardines and other seafood dishes. Many towns and villages have an 'ouzerie' dedicated to serving ouzo with small plates of seafood. Ouzo can be served in tavernas as an aperitif or enjoyed after a meal but some say it doesn't taste great with traditional Greek meat dishes like moussaka or stifado when beer or wine is preferred. In fact, it's a favourite ingredient in many traditional seafood recipes and can also be added to Greek desserts. The Greeks often use ouzo as a medicine. Head colds can be relieved by a warm ouzo at bedtime they say. Its antiseptic properties are also thought to be good for treating minor cuts and scratches. Some Greek will also use it for easing aches and pains by rubbing it into joints and muscles. As to who makes the best ouzo, there are a few large distributors but a great deal in Greece is distilled by small, local, artisan outfits. Many of the cheaper ouzos are not actually distilled but simply blended and bottled. Properly distilled ouzo is the real thing and far better. Brands of ouzo tend to have their ardent fans. Most agree the best ouzo comes from Lesvos, also called Mytilini, and the biggest brands there are: Mini This is probably best-known ouzo that started life in Lesvos. It's a very mild and smooth ouzo that's sold all over Greece.Matis This Lesvos ouzo brand of the has picked up many awards and widely available all over the island, especially in the capital town of Mytilini where production is based.Barbayanni Distilled near the south coast resort of Plomari Barbayanni is considered one of the best-tasting and is renowned not only on Lesvos but the whole of Greece.Giannatsi Again from Plomari, Giannatsi is distilled in traditional wood burning still but it is only sold locally so it's pretty hard to find outside Lesvos. There are many other brands worth buying such as Sans Rival, Pitsiladi and the well known Plomari. Also popular is the brand Ouzo12 which is know found outside Greece and is distilled to suit more international tastes. Ouzo is a strong and potent drink and often has an alcohol content of about 40%. Its high sugar content also helps delay the release of alcohol so drinkers tend to feel the effects sometime after drinking. Drinkers are advised to add iced water, sip the ouzo slowly and nibble at some food or the ouzo effects of could sneak up and catch you unawares.

greek salad feta cheese
Fears rise over Greek feta

The future of exclusive Greek feta cheese could be under threat in the wake of a new international trade deal. A recent EU trade deal with Canada includes clauses that remove PDO protection for feta, prompting outrage among Greek farmers. The loss has triggered fears among Greek dairy producers about the fate of Greek strained yoghurt brands which enjoy similar protection. Greek farmers are also concerned that similar deal might be struck with Britain in the wake of Brexit and that feta cheese sold in UK supermarkets could as easily by made in Aldershot as Attica. Feta has enjoyed protected status since 2002 when the EU named it Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) product. Since then cheese sold as 'feta' must have been manufactured in designated areas of Greece and can contain at least 70% sheep's milk. Brussels says more EU money will be used to promote feta internationally with €19 billion earmarked to support the Greek farm and stockbreeding sector over the next seven years. But the Greek dairy products federation SEVGAP has dismissed the pledge as 'empty promises', describing the new trade deal as 'scandalous' and an act of 'national betrayal'. When Greece joined the EEC in 1981, there was no PDO protection for feta cheese, and it was only after years of legal challenges that the Greek cheese won special status within the EU. It wasn't until 2002 that the Commission registered the name 'feta' which can only be used exclusively for cheese originating in Greece. To be registered as a PDO, a traditional name must refer to an agricultural product or a foodstuff from a defined geographical environment for a product or foodstuff with specific characteristics. The area defined by the Greek legislation covers mainland Greece and the island of Lesbos where the method of keeping the ewes and goats have a long-standing tradition. The small native breeds of sheep and goats, whose milk is used in feta production, are tough and resilient and fed on an extremely diversified flora, which helps give feta its distinctive aroma and flavour. But the granting of PDO status was not without controversy as producers in Denmark, Germany, and France were also making and marketing their own cheese as 'feta'. The EU carried out an investigation into the origins of feta and eventually awarded PDO status to Greece. But problems for feta have not gone away. Bulgaria has its own cultural claims to feta and Bulgarians argue that feta originated in their country, not Greece. The latest trade deal with Canada undermines the unique Greek status for feta cheese, and the row looks likely to continue for some time.

olive oil bottles
Greek olive oil best in Med

Olive oil is one of Greece's best products so why do we see so little in UK shops and supermarkets? The answer appears to be the failure of the Greek government to promote the product, not only to benefit overseas sales but also to help boost tourism. Unlike Greek wine, olive oil has enjoyed little backing in recent years despite it being acknowledged may many cooks as the best olive oil on the market and despite it being sold more cheaply than rival products from places like Spain and Italy. Now industry leaders want Greek olive oil to get the same treatment as Greek wine and Greek feta cheese. Giorgos Economou is director of the impressive sounding Association of Greek Industries of Olive Oil Standardisation. He complains: "Olive oil is lagging behind other products, such as the wine ... We want to develop the oil tourism. We want to establish the 'olive oil roads' and open the olive mills for people to visit them." Known as the 'green gold' of the Mediterranean, groves of olive oil are found just about everywhere in Greece and its production is linked closely to everyday village life in rural areas. Despite its ubiquity, Greece has does little to promote the product among the thousand of annual tourist visitors to the Greek islands. Making olive oil is very much a family affair in Greece and olive mills were once dotted all over the countryside. Many have fallen into disuse and are now little more than ruins. However there are a few that open their doors to tourists such as those on Lesvos and but it's a national asset that has been left to wither, The potential for development as tourist attractions is significant, especially since olive oil production in Greece is enjoying something of a revival. According to latest figures, Greek olive oil production was up a phenomenal 127% last year to top 300,000 tonnes. And more than 70% of the total Greek olive oil production is of extra-virgin quality. Ironically, much Greek olive oil is shipped to Italy where it is bottled and exported to other countries such as the UK. The problem seems to lie in the non-standardisation of Greek olive oil, and Greece needs to lift its game if it is to compete against rivals with Greek branded products. Only a third of Greek olive oil production gets an official seal of approval for quality yet every holiday visitor to the Greek islands knows just how delicious the home-grown product is. That said, there is still the irritating Greek habit of leaving large bottles of olive oil on taverna tables in the hot summer sun where it quickly degrades. There are even moves to force taverna owners to serve small bottles of olive oil that each diner can open for themselves, thus preserving the unique flavour and taste of Greek extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil contains no additives or preservatives and is high in mono-unsaturates, which means helps to control cholesterol levels as part of a healthy balanced diet. The Greeks consume more olive oil per head than any other country, and Greek olive oil is noted for is fresh, grassy flavour, often with a slight hint of pepper. Greek olive oil is excellent with salads, especially drizzled over feta cheese but it is also an important base for many Greek dishes, such as moussaka and kleftiko. One of the problems in promoting olive oil tourist trails in Greece is that the traditional olive harvest starts in late autumn, well after the tourist season has ended. Olives are usually picked between November and January and cheap flights to Greece can be hard to find at that time of year. But with plans by the Greek government to extend the tourism season, olive oil trails present an ideal opportunity to both boost winter tourism and promote one of Greece's best products.

spanakopita cheese pie
Let's eat Greek for starters

Greek food is enjoying a bit of a comeback at the moment with several Greek cookbooks on the market including the excellent 'Smashing Plates' by Maria Elia, one of my favourites. Holiday visitors to the Greek islands increasingly opt for traditional dishes and fewer restaurants have signs boasting roast beef and fish 'n chips, at least in those resorts not overrun by tourists. The Mediterranean diet of olive oil, fresh vegetables, fish and fruit is now known to be notoriously good for you. But there are plenty of tourists that hesitate to stray away from the traditional offerings of Greek salad, moussaka, souvlaki and gyros. If you want to dip into Greek food but are not sure of what you will like it's a good idea to try our a few starters first. Here are a few suggestions of food appetisers you might like to taste on a Greek island holiday. They will be favourites of the locals and are not to be missed on a trip to the Greek islands. Dolmades Grape leaves stuffed with minced lamb and rice make a great starter, especially with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Grape leaves have a light cabbage flavour but less earthy and easier to chew. Fava Made from yellow split peas, fava is not particularly Greek, but the locals often serve it in the Greek way, warm with a sprinkling of spring onions and a drizzle of olive oil. Creamy and rich to the taste buds it makes another great starter, especially when served with warm pita bread. Saganaki Saganaki is the process of dipping food in flour and deep frying. Fried cheese doesn't sound either healthy or appetising, but once you have tried it, you will find it hard to resist. Served in small quantities as an appetiser, this traditional Greek dish is prepared in minutes and if you prefer something less fattening than cheese try shrimps. Keftedes Another deep fried starter found in many Greek tavernas, keftedes are crispy meatballs, baked rather than fried, and often served with a creamy sauce and pita bread. They can also be made from vegetables; the most popular being courgettes (kolokithokeftedes), crispy outside and creamy within, and tomatokeftedes, very popular on Santorini and served with mint and onion. Spanokopita Pita is Greek for a pastry pie and spanikopita is a traditional Greek pie of filo pastry stuffed with wilted spinach and melted cheese, usually feta. Baked to a crispy, golden perfection spanikopita can make for a very filling starter or bought from the bakery as a snack. Tiropita Tiro is Greek for cheese so tiropita is a Greek cheese pie, popular throughout the islands, that can be eaten as a starter or as a snack any time of the day. Tiropita comes in all shapes and sizes but is often served as small triangles. Tzatziki Tzatziki is one of the classic Greek appetisers. Usually made with Greek yoghurt, garlic and cucumber it comes in as many variations as there are Greek cooks. It often includes a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of dill. Yemista A traditional starter of Greek stuffed tomatoes yemista adds a splash of colour to any meal. Large juicy tomatoes are scooped out and stuffed with rice, lamb mince and herbs. The variations on this dish are endless, but all come with that comfort food aroma and flavour that can only be found in Greece and the Greek Islands.

Greek olive oil
Greeks face olive oil crisis

No visitor to the Greek islands will escape the acres of olive groves that carpet the island landscapes, from Corfu to Crete. Olives have been a staple of the Mediterranean diet for centuries and more than 100 varieties are grown in Greece and the Greek islands, thriving in the long hot summers and mild winters. But this year's winter olive harvest in Greece has been a troubled one. Not only is the 2014-15 harvest below average but prices for Greek extra virgin olive oil have been falling despite low yields in other major producers in the Mediterranean. Greece is the third largest producer of olives and olive oil with an annual output of 430,000 tons. And Greeks use more olive oil than anywhere else in the world with an impressive 18 kilos per person each year. However, the best Greek olive oil is exported to Italy, where it is often bottled and resold as Italian olive oil. And despite a poor harvest in Italy this year, Greeks are still getting less per kilo than previous years as Italian buyers are paying only €3 per kilo this year compared to €4 in 2013-14. The poor Italian crop has led to unconfirmed reports of olive fruit being shipped across the Adriatic from Greece for the first time ever. The high demand should have made this year's harvest very profitable and bring good times for Greek olive growers. But heavy autumn rains and strong winds have hit Greek olive producers hard in key areas such as the Peloponnese while big Greek island producers such as Crete and Lesvos have struggled to get a decent crop. It has forced many producers to sell at low prices to cover their costs, but it's not only poor weather that is being blamed for the setback. Greek olive oil producers also point to the economic crisis and the failure of the government to promote Greek olive oil abroad or to control state aid handouts to big growers. As a result Italian and Spanish olive oil is much better known, taking pride of place, for example, on British supermarket shelves while Greek olive oil is barely seen. So Greek olive oil mills and wholesalers are forced to sell to Italy in bulk to make a quick turnaround instead of using their profits to promote and market Greek olive oil on the international stage. The Italian olive oil industry, in contrast, invests heavily in marketing and promotion, and Italian olive oil not only has a better reputation but also nets the largest market share, even though much 'Italian' olive oil originates in Greek olive groves. Greek growers are understandably furious that the world reputation of Italian olive oil is partly sustained by imports of high quality Greek olive oil. To add to the confusion, reports are growing this year of some Greek olive oil firms are now importing low grade Spanish olive oil and mixing it with their own virgin olive oil in a bid to cut costs, a practice that Italian producers have been accused of for years. The use of low grade Spanish oil is thought to be another reason that Greek producers have seen prices fall this year and it's prompted the Greek government to pledge to strengthen controls to protect the quality of Greek olive oil. But despite the short term drop in olive oil prices, the poor harvests are bound to have an effect long-term and British cooks can expect to pay more for their quality olive oil later this year. While many areas of Greece were hit by autumn wind and rain, drought conditions in much of southern Europe, notably Spain, at a critical time of the year are blamed for poor harvests. European suppliers were hoping that a good Greek olive harvest would bridge the gap but the poor weather and low Greek yields has dashed their hopes with the olive harvest in some Greek areas down by as much as 50%. Meanwhile an olive tree disease that is spreading across Italy is causing widespread concern. Around 800,000 trees are reported to be infected in the Apulia region in the 'heel' of Italy. Apulia accounts for about a third of the total Italian olive crop but many trees are infected with the bacteria 'Xylelle fastidiosa' which causes olive tree bark to dry out and branches to be fruitless. To make matters worse the Italian harvest has also been hit hard by the olive fruit fly. Producers have now deemed Italy's 2014 olive harvest the worst in its recorded history, partly because of the climatic conditions that helped the olive fly proliferate. There are still enough stocks to keep olive prices stable in the UK supermarkets but consumers are advised to stock up while they can. They can expect to see a large hike in prices this spring. Olive oil producers are used to good and bad years in what has always been a very cyclical industry but all agree that the harvest throughout southern Europe this year has been particularly poor and growers face financial hardship. This latest olive crisis will not only affect the Greek economy but also those consumers in the UK that love their Greek olive oil.

greek herbs
Black market in Greek herbs

No self-respecting Greek salad recipe would fail to include large dashes of Mediterranean herbs such as oregano and thyme and holiday visitors to the Greek islands will often see market stalls piled high with sachets of sage. Hand-picked herbs wild herbs from the hills and mountains was, until recently, a thriving cottage industry on many Greek islands. Holiday visitors were often sold cheap packs of wild oregano, thyme and other mountain herbs by street vendors who plied their wares in many of the Greek island holiday resorts and beaches. But the practice came to a sharp halt last year when tough restrictions were imposed on picking wild mountain herbs in Greece and permits were made compulsory for commercial harvesting. The new laws were aimed at protecting the wild plants that were in danger of being stripped from Greek hillsides. They made it illegal for locals to gather herbs othere than for domestic use and a criminal offence to sell wild herbs to holiday tourists without special permits. But the new regulations have also triggered a surge in illegal picking and trading with concern growing at amount of cut-price Greek herbs now being traded on the 'black market'. Police on mountains near the Greek- Albanian border recently found a makeshift camp of more than a dozen men, several mules and 4.5 tonnes of illegally picked mountain sage ready to be transported over the wild mountain trails. In another incident, pickers were arrested in the southern Peloponnese with a lorry load of 200 kilos of wild oregano and mountain tea, a very popular infusion in Greece. And investigators report that a snap survey of a market in northern Salonika, discovers that half the plants being sold in sachets were not cultivated legally but had been picked wild from the Greek mountainsides. Ban on commercial picking of wild herbs Under the new laws only herbs and plants picked for personal and domestic use are permitted unless the gatherer has written permission from the Greek Forestry Division. Forestry officials instist 'the eradication, cutting, gathering and transporting all kinds of aromatic, medicinal, dyeing, flavouring, apiculture, floriculture and ornamental plant seedlings, bushes and shrubs from public or private forests and woodland and grassland without prior permission' is now a criminal offence. Similar laws have also banned people from gathering more than two kilos of wild mushrooms or digging up Greek forest litter without a license. There is nothing to stop Greeks picking wild herbs for their own use, but they are allowed to pick no more than 0.5 kilo per person per day and with a total ban imposed in areas where there is risk of damage to biodiversity or to the local ecosystem. Despite an abundance of herbs and the perfect conditions for their culture, Greece has fallen well behind other Mediterranean countries in growing herbs on a commercial scale for culinary and medicinal use. Greece has a remarkable biodiversity with 7,500 indigenous plant species of which around 20% are aromatic and pharmaceutical herbs, according to the Greek Agricultural Organisation DEMETRA. But very little is grown on a commercial scale and Greek exports of herbs for the kitchen are well behind the European leaders in the sector which include Germany, France, Bulgaria, Italy and Poland. Greek herb growers undercut by illegal traders Now Greek environment officials are worried that the surge in clandestine trade may not only have a negative effect on the wild flora of Greece and the Greek islands but that it may also hit the growing trade in Greek herbs grown commercially. Greek growers who specialise in aromatic herbs claim prices are being savagely undercut on the black market thanks to the trade in illegal plants and leaves. But Greek herb growers are striking back. Last year, Greek growers set up an association to oversee their operations and the Greek government is to prepare a national catalogue to serve as a scientific reference on endemic plants Since 2012 Greek mountain tea, a blend of 17 varieties, has been sold under the brand name Tuvunu and is now being exported as far away as the United States. Around 300 farmers from all over Greece supply the tea leaves but the association rejects proposals from suppliers who cannot prove that their wild mountain tea has been picked under licence. Regular walkers in the Greek islands will appreciate the delight of the aroma of wild herbs blown on the breeze along mountain trails, especially in the spring and early summer. Protecting the wild herbs that grow on many forested hills across the Greek islands is no doubt a good thing. But it has meant that many locals can no longer supplement their income by selling bags of locally picked herbs to holiday visitors. And it does appear to have led to a boom in illegal gathering of mountain herbs for shipping across the Greek borders into the rest of Europe.

nisos beer
Greek beer takes silver

A Greek beer has taken silver at the European Beer Star Awards, the first time ever that a Greek beer has figured in the prizewinners. The Greek beer Nisos, brewed on the Cycladic island of Tinos, took the silver trophy at the contest held in Bavaria in Germany. The European Beer Star Award is one of the most prestigious beer awards in Europe, and the brewery's win is the second this year after it was selected as National Champion of Greece in this year's European Business Awards. Nisos (which is Greek for island) is brewed at a microbrewery in the village of Vaya on the island of Tinos and was founded less than two years ago. The first bottle appeared in Greek stores, bars and restaurants in April last year and the beer has quickly won over Greek beer drinkers with its rich colour and deep flavour. Beer inspired by the Greek Islands The Nisos company says the beer "was inspired by the rich colours and flavours of the Greek islands, the golden sun, the blue sea and sand of the Aegean Sea. It is also the work of local artisans, using the finest quality ingredients growing in the Greek soil". The Greek brewers faced tough competition from 42 countries promoting 1,613 beers at the event with more than 100 judges taking part in blind tastings as well as assessing beers for colour, and presentation. The Tinos microbrewery was up against traditional brewers with hundreds of years of tradition but managed to see off competition from brewing giants from the Czech Republic, Germany and the U.S. Since the completion started 11 years ago, Greece has never picked up an award so, to make silver, has been a double achievement for the tiny company. The Cyclades microbrewery joint owner, Alexandros Kouris, said: "We had faith in the quality of our Nisos Pilsner beer but coming to this competition, were humbled to know that we are competing with breweries that we respect enormously, representing countries with vast and important traditions of brewing." "We dedicate this award to all our friends that choose Nisos Pilsner as their favourite beer and honour us with their love. We dedicate it also to Tinos island, to the Cyclades archipelago and to all Greek islands that have become our inspiration." "We would also like to dedicate this award to all entrepreneurs who, against all odds, insist on investing and producing in Greece." Built on the site of a Greek taverna The Cyclades microbrewery on Tinos was built on the site of the former Roda Taverna which had to be refurbished in order to house the brewing equipment. In contrast to industrial mass produced beer, Nisos is brewed in small batches with "craftsmanship, love, passion, enthusiasm and respect for the consumer". The company says it uses Ingredients of the highest possible quality; water, malt, hops, yeast, and perfection in the production process to "create a rich, aromatic and robust beer for customers to enjoy". Nisos is certainly something to look out for on a Greek island holiday. It is not widely distributed at the moment but the award, coupled with the blaze of publicity, could see tavernas and cafes queuing up to stock the award-winning brew. Already famous for ouzo, raki and wine, Greek beers look set to make their mark both in Greece and in other European countries and theyare certainly work seeking out on a Greek Island holiday. Though most Greek beers are not widely known, there are a few, such as theVolkan Beer from Santorini that are beginning to make their mark in the beer drinking world. Made from the honey of Santorini and the citron of Naxos island, Volkan Beer won the 'New Section Product Innovation of the Year' award at the International Beer Awards 2013 in Prague. Once dominated by German brewers, the European Beer Star Awards now attracts brewers from all over the world and this year medals were awarded to breweries from 24 different countries. When it comes to the medals table, however, German beers still dominate with 18 gold, 22 silver and 19 bronze medals for German brewers this year followed by the United States with 39 medals, 12 of them gold.

Greek food fresher

Many first time holidaymakers to Greek and the Greek Islands will remark, on tasting their first Greek tomato or melon, that they had no idea that vegetables and fruit could taste this good. There are plenty of theories on why home grown Greek food tastes so much better. Some say it's not just the lack of pesticide use but also the mineral-rich soils and abundant sunshine of Greece. Now Greek fruit and vegetables turn out be among the purest and safest to eat in Europe according to food safety experts who give Greek field produce a top rating. Checks on pesticide residues found in fresh fruit and veg on sale in Greek shops show growers are steering clear of harmful chemicals, according to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed RASFF. It is hardly surprising as many visitors to Greece will comment on the taste of fresh vegetables, especially from tourists who search out tavernas where the locals eat. The humble Greek salad, of course, is to be found everywhere and usually consists of fresh, ripe tomatoes, cucumber, onion, green peppers, black olives and a generous portion of feta cheese sprinkled with olive oil, vinegar and oregano. The purity of ingredients is certainly a major factor when it comes to taste and Greek crops have now been added to the list of the safest and best grown fruit and vegetables in the European Union with no warning notices issued to Greece by the health watchdog in the first half of 2014. It compares to 35 notices on excessive use of pesticides in field crops issued to Bulgaria this year followed by Italy (21), the Netherlands and United Kingdom (19) and France (18). Other countries found to have large residues on pesticides in fruit and vegetables include Turkey, Egypt, India, the Dominican Republic and Nigeria. Fresh fruits and vegetables make up a major part of the typical Greek diet and most of it is eaten seasonally. Those looking to enjoy fresh food on a Greek holiday will make straight for the local market where fresh farm produce is on sale every day. The mild, wet winters and sunny summers give Greece an ideal climate for growing vegetables and fruits and they are usually served up in abundance on taverna tables. Vegetables form a fundamental element in any Greek menu with tomatoes, garlic, onions, spinach, artichokes, fennel, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant and peppers among the favourites. Fresh herbs and seasonings are used liberally to enhance the flavour and dishes will often be sprinkled with parsley, dill, oregano, mint, or cinnamon with lemon juice and lemon zest added to dressings. Fruits are eaten either fresh or they are often preserved by drying. Popular fruits in Greece include apricots, grapes, cherries, apples, oranges pears, plums, figs and the ubiquitous lemon. Created in 1979, RASFF shares information between its 28 European members and issues notice to importers and exporters on food quality. Its round-the-clock service ensures urgent notices on food safety sent, received and responded to collectively and efficiently. Thanks to RASFF, many food safety risks had been averted before they could have been harmful to European consumers.

Fresh Veg
Greek cuisine

Healthy and delicious for over 4 millennia. Greek cuisine is becoming a popular export with gastrophiles from across Europe embracing delicious mediterranean cooking. Recipe websites record many searches for traditional Greek delicacies, and restaurants outside of Greece will often offer Greek dishes on their menus. Andy Cornish provides you with the potted history along with a couple of his favourite recipes. Cooking and eating are fundamental parts of Greek culture, with the traditional Greek Taverna an integral part of the mix. The flavours changes subtly with the seasons and have also developed over time. Olive oil is used in my Greek dishes and has been a fundamental part of Greek cuisine since the ancient times. It is produced locally from the olive trees which are commonplace throughout the mediterranean region. The history of Greek cooking and Greek food goes back thousands of years. The ancient Greek poet Archestratos wrote the world's first cookbook in 320 B.C. Apart from an increase in the use of meat, the ingredients used in greek cuisine haven't altered hugely at any point since. The staple foods are known as the 'Mediterranean Triad', a blend of wheat products, olive oil and local wine. As a rule the Greeks tend to throw more herbs and spices into their dishes than their immediate Mediterranean neighbours. Oregano, mint, garlic and bay laurel leaves are commonly added to dishes, with sweet spices such as cloves or cinnamon added to stews or meat dishes. Many Greek dishes get their roots from the Ottoman empire, their names often revealing an Arab, Turkish or even Persian heritage. Moussaka, Tzatzki and so on. Other dishes can be traced back to ancient times such as the original Greek lentil soup, and curiously pasteli. This is a type of treat, a candy bar made with sesame seeds and then baked in honey. We've been featuring numerous Greek recipes on our network of website for many years. Below are a couple of our favourites. Lamb Kleftiko The great thing about lamb kleftiko is that it is so easy to prepare but looks so impressive on the plate. The lamb should be melt-in the-mouth and the vegetables infused with all the meaty juices. more... Beef Stifado Beef stifado is a nourishing meaty stew made with shallot onions and should be pronounced stifatho rather than stifado with emphasis on the 'fa'. The meat is usually beef but it can be lamb, rabbit or any sort of game. more... Greek food (by Sam) is a great Twitter feed with information, news and recipes. Everything you need to know about Greek cuisine in 120 bite-size characters. Check him out here: https://twitter.com/greekfood. He also has a great blog which is worth a read: greekgourmand.blogspot.

olive oil bottles
Greece stays pure on olive oil

Government says no to olive oil blending. Greece is to keep its olive oil 'pure' by continuing a nationwide ban on blending it with cheaper vegetable oils. The Greek government fears that blending its olive oil could spoil one of the country's signature products that are enjoyed by thousands of Greek island holiday visitors every year. Greece says has no plans to lift laws banning the mixing of olive oil with other cheaper oils in a clear rejection of a much-touted proposal in a recent economic report. The report, commissioned from the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). recommended that the sale of blended olive oil with cheap vegetable oils be allowed as part of an effort to modernise the Greek economy and stimulate trade. It said the new product could carry a prominent label 'blended olive oil' and push up sales of olive oil both in Greece and in other countries. Greece is the third largest producer of olives and olive oil products after Spain and Italy with more than 430,000 tons of olive oil produced every year. More than 70% of Greek olive oil is premium quality first pressing olive oil that commands the highest prices and the country is noted for the high quality of its olive oil. Greeks also use more olive oil per head than anyone else at a huge 18 litres per head each year, buying more than 60% of the domestic production of an annual 300,000. But poor export branding means most of the Greek surplus – much of it top-grade extra virgin oil – is pumped into container trucks and sold cheaply in bulk to Italian merchants who rebottle it and brand it as their own. They may also mix the top quality Greek olive oil with lower quality oil and set it as 'olive oil light' or in other marketing ploys. But Greek Deputy Development Minister Thanasis Skordas has ruled out any relaxation in the law. He told Greek MPs: "I would like to make clear in the most explicit and absolute way that the government does not intend to legislate, under any circumstances, the mixing of olive oil with other types of oil." "Those who think they can get away with mixing different types of oil, they may as well forget about it," he added. But the Greek government looks likely to adopt another OECD recommendation that olive oil should be sold in larger containers. The minister said that proposals to sell of olive oil in packages of more than five litres was "worth considering." Greek is noted for its high quality olive oil with premium quality olive oil always having the cold pressed extra virgin label. Top quality olive oil has a low acidity level of not more than 1% and a very smooth taste. Greece has no intention of losing its status as producer of the world's best quality olive oil.

greek olives
Greek olives in short supply

'poor harvest may trigger price rises'. Early indications of a poor harvest this year looks set to send the price of Greek olives soaring. The hot summer weather in mainland Greece and across much of the southern Mediterranean looks likely to lead to a shortage of table olives later this year. It could trigger price rises of up to 50% for table olives with the 2013 olive harvest reported to be down by 80% in some parts of Greece. October is the month that the Greek olive harvest gets under way after most holidaymakers have flown home. Olive groves in Halkidiki, one of the main olive growing areas of Greece, have failed to produce the normal levels of fruit this year and the Halkidiki harvest is usually a good indicator of olive production across Greece and the Greek Islands. Halkidiki olives are usually harvested from the middle of September, but unfortunately this year has seen very low levels of olives being produced, forcing Greek farmers to seek help from the European Parliament to support the industry. Problems have been compounded by a poor harvest forecast for Spain and for many other areas of Southern Europe. Olives are an important segment on Greece's export trade and the poor crop will cause problems to the struggling economy of the country. Greek olives often bridge the gap when there is a poor harvest in Spain but the weather wasn't on their side. It is only a matter of time before the poor olive harvest is reflected in prices at the supermarket. Experts forecast that shoppers who enjoy Greek olives in the UK will have to pay more – up to 50% more for some olive varieties. Greece is the third largest producer of olives and olive oil products with more than 430,000 tons of olive oil produced annually. Around three quarters of that is premium quality first pressing olive oil that commands the highest prices. The colour of table olives can tell you when the olive fruit was picked. Harvesting runs from September to January and the greenest olives are picked early while the blackest olives are picked in December and January. Greek is noted for its high quality olive oil with premium quality olive oil always having the cold pressed extra virgin label. Top quality olive oil has a very smooth taste and a low acidity level of not more than 1%. The time taken from picking to pressing has a big effect on quality and first pressings of freshly harvested fruit meets the highest standards. Olive oil that is labelled 'virgin' or 'select' is slightly cheaper but still has a fine taste with an acidity level below 2%. It also comes from first pressings but the fruit may not be as freshly picked. The tradition of the olive growing and oil production in Greece spans more than five millennia and olive groves are found all over Greece and the Greek Islands.

boutari wine barrels
Santorini wines bring cheer

'winemaker makes it into world top three'. Trips to the local taverna are a staple diet of any Greek Islands holiday but visitors are usually reluctant to select a bottle of Greek wine to go with their evening meal. Although Greece and the Greek Islands are dotted with vineyards, the wine of Greece has not really enjoyed the best of reputations. That is fast changing as Greek wines enjoy something of a renaissance, with the Boutari winemakers of the popular Cycladic holiday island of Santorini leading the way. One of the leading wine publications, Wine & Spirits magazine, has once again placed Boutari among its top 100 wineries in the world, for the 17th year running. The accolade takes Boutari to third place in the magazine's hall of fame for the most regularly honoured of world class winemakers. Top is the Australian winemaker Penfolds which has hit the top 100 no less than 23 times, followed by the US wine producer Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Chilean winery Concha y Toro, which have both been honoured 19 times. Every year the magazine holds blind wine-tasting session for wine specialists to evaluate the best labels. And each year Boutari wines score very highly among the magazine's panels and critics. Current vintages of Boutari's wines are now placed among the top five best wineries in the world. Such regular achievement is impressive for any winery, but it's particularly impressive for Greece which was notorious for producing barrels of poor quality plonk as recently as the 1980's. Greek islands once famed in antiquity for their fine wines were turning out bottles of dire Domestika as vineyards were dug up daily to make way for new hotels. Boutari started its vineyards on Santorini in 1989, taking advantage of the dry climate and the rich volcanic soils and has since transformed the island into one of the most valued regions for world class wines. It now has 200 acres planted with vines and produces 750,000 cases a year. Boutari has now started up on the island of Crete, in the Peloponnese and near Thessalonika.

greek salad feta cheese
Greeks fight for their feta

Greece means to stop foreign 'feta' imports. Greeks love their fine feta cheese and its growing use in dishes across the world has given a major boost to Greek producers. Food lovers can also look forward to eating the genuine 'feta' cheese with their taverna meals when they book their annual holidays to the Greek islands. It is now so important to Greece that the country fought and won a "designation of origin" status in the European Union. But a war of words has broken out over Canadian plans to import its own white brined 'feta' cheese to Europe as part of a trade deal. Greece has pledged to use all legal means, including a veto, to stop the foreign 'feta' imports into the European Union. They have even sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada warning him of the serious consequences of trying to muscle in on the traditional Greek cheese And the Greek Ministry of Agriculture is "seriously dealing with the issue" which will come before a meeting of European ministers in November. Secretary general of the Greek Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food, Dimitris Melas, warned: "Greece is ready to use all legal means, including a veto, to prevent the import of white brined cheese called 'feta' from Canada into the European Union." Feta is a crumbly white brined curd cheese traditionally made in Greece. It is most often used in salads and in baking, most notably in the popular filo pastry pies called spanakopita (spinach pie) and tyropita (cheese pie) and is served up in most tavernas in Greece. Holiday visitors to Greece will often find it sprinkled with aromatic herbs such as oregano and grilled, as part of a sandwich, or included in omelettes. Feta has been a protected designation of origin product in the European Union since 2002. Only cheese from sheep or goat milk produced by traditional means in Greece can legitimately bear the name 'feta'. This decision to register 'feta' as a protected designation of origin in Greece was challenged by Denmark, Germany and France who had been producing similar products from cow milk and marketed under the name 'feta' since 1963 but the European Court found in favour of Greece and cheese from other countries was forced to drop the name. Similar white brined cheeses found on supermarket shelves and are often called 'white cheese' or 'Greek-style' cheese,. They are usually produced outside the EU are often include a proportion of cow milk. The Greek word 'feta' actually derives from the Italian 'fetta' which translates as 'sliced'. It was adopted by the Greeks in the 17th century over the practice of slicing cheese blocks before placing them in barrels to mature.

The Greek breakfast
Greek Breakfast

Greek Breakfast site in English. Eating out in a Greek taverna is just one of the memories many bring back from a Greek Island holiday. Now holidaymakers can recapture the taste on a newly launched English language version of the "Greek Breakfast". The website is the initiative of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels and is designed to promote Greek food and the Mediterranean diet. The English-language website gives information on Greek food and lists Greek hotels where visitors can taste the best of local Greek gastronomy. Visitors can also learn about the history of the most important Greek products and pick up many recipe ideas based on local Greek Island dishes. Delicious recipes include how to make a quince marmalade from Thassos while specialist Greek products include the plums from Skopelos, a fleshy dark coloured plum that is used widely on the island for making plum puddings and pies. Also features is the louza from Mykonos, one of the best cured meats and on a par with top European ones such as the Italian prosciutto. The ruby red louza from Mykonos and variations from Syros, Andros, Tinos and Santorini are considered a real delicacy. The original "Greek Breakfast" idea was launched in 2010 to promote Greek food and Greek products. The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels has been running since 1935 and is consulted by the Greek government on matters of tourism. The Mediterranean Diet is not just a modern dietary trend but, according to UNESCO, is an "intangible cultural heritage of mankind". Hotels awarded the Greek Breakfast label offer their guests the chance to discover hundreds of small gastronomic treasures from every part of Greece and the Greek Islands.

Greek taverna sticker
Taverna sticker

Greek taverna sticker for lower prices. Visitors to the Greek islands this autumn are advised to look for a special blue sticker when choosing a Greek holiday taverna. The sticker shows that the taverna or cafe have passed on the savings to customers after a substantial drop in VAT which came into effect in August The sticker is distributed by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE) to its members who display their adjusted price lists as proof that they have incorporated the VAT reduction which fell of 23% to 13%. The confederation represents the owners of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across Greece. Greece is following the model that was successful in France in 2009 when the VAT rate in the food service sector was cut from 19.6% to 5.5%. The 10% hike in VAT on the food sector prompted outrage last year as it forced taverna owners to raise prices and visitors numbers fell. The Greek government has bowed to pressure to reduce VAT on Greek food services to 13% but has limited it to five months. The rate will go up again next January if revenues fall as a result. They fear taverna owners could keep prices high and pocket the difference. But restaurant owners complain they have been forced to cut profit margins to a minimum in order to keep prices low and retain customers. The government insists the VAT rate will stay at 13% for the five-month trial period only and will only be extended if it helps in conquering tax evasion. French restaurateurs and cafe owners who lowered their prices were rewarded with an official window sticker read 'A cut in VAT is a cut in prices!' The Greek one says 'Lower VAT- Lower Prices'.

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