Olive Oil and Olives of Ithaki
Several varieties of olive trees are cultivated on Ithaca, but a native variety is the most widespread tree, called by many different names, thus indicating its long relationship with the island’s inhabitants: the “local” olive tree, or “Thiakia” or “Anoisana” or “Plexidenia. It is a sturdy tree which produces a perfectly round, juicy fruit. As the island is ideal for hikes, the eye of the visitor can easily distinguish this indigenous variety which grows to become rather tall, up to 8 m and spreads everywhere with long, side branches, claiming a lot of space in the olive grove. These features, and the fact that this olive tree gives fruit every other year, makes oil producers not to prefer it as their main crop, but its presence is dominant on the island and its acclimation through centuries wonderful.
Wine of Ithaki
On the island you may drink two wine varieties, the “Mavrodafni” and the “white”. From the 16 indigenous vine varieties of Ithaca, very few produce varietal wine (from one grape variety), as the vines are few and generally give small productions. This adds value to Ithacan wine, since the blending from more than one variety of grapes requires experience, knowledge and passion. Ithacan wines are bottled by the producers themselves, in small bottling installations with the proper specifications and part of them is marketed. They can be found in the updated liquor stores and cellars of Ithaca and Kefallonia or they can be ordered in advance, directly from the producers. The “Papadiko” is the most popular vine variety in Ithaca, a short plant whose grapes are eaten fresh as table grapes or are used for winemaking. The “Avgoulato”, an excellent vine, also gives fruit for both uses while “Koritsanos”, the highly productive variety native in Perachori gives a delicious white wine. The “Goulina”, another variety in Perachori, is a highly productive vine renowned for its resistance to disease and its distinctive aroma. Most indigenous vine varieties produce white fruit and white wine, except for “Mavroudi”, which gives black grapes. It is found in small numbers in the vineyards because it is easily infected by diseases, but it is excellent for blending. Another great vine variety in Ithaca is “Kotsilia” from Perachori, indigenous and old, which gives a full white wine. The “Koufaki” produces excellent table grapes in strong clusters, of medium size, with a slightly sour flavour and is mainly used as a blending wine together with other grapes. Among these native varieties we must include “Boubouli”, not a particularly productive variety, but it produces good quality white grapes and creates a remarkably dense vegetation in the vineyar.
Herbs of Ithaki
The soil is perfectly suitable for growing herbs, it is mountainous and rocky, while the microclimate favours quality and variety. Many herbs are abundant in Ithaca and rational collection has retained their biodiversity intact for almost a century. Many of the Ithacan herbs are integral ingredients of local recipes, whereas combinations and special local recipes – “ rechettes “ ensure highly nutritious drinks, with emollient and antioxidant action for the winter. Among the herbs of Ithaca that stand out for their quality and fragrance are sage, thyme, rosemary, chamomile, lemon balm, mint and “sapsychos”. Sage –“ alifaskia” is everywhere in Ithaca and it is widely used as medicine for the mouth and throat, as a natural painkiller for any kind of pain, as an invigorating drink , or for seasoning local recipes, especially meat pie. Thyme is mainly used dried in cooking, for flavouring spicy dishes, while rosemary gives aroma, preserves meat and fish dishes and is also added to a number of sweets. The sapsychos plant is closely related to oregano, with a different flavour, a favourite with Ithacan cooks.
Feta cheese of Ithaki
There is a local breed of sheep, the “reddish sheep”, whose characteristics resemble those of the Syrian sheep breed, the common ancestor of all breeds of sheep in South-eastern Europe and the Middle East. Its milk is used for a small feta cheese production which follows a traditional process. The cheese is available seasonally at grocery stores on the island and it is also served at some restaurants, particularly in Northern Ithaca.
Honey of Ithaki
On Ithaca there are forests with conifers, thyme, flowers and herbs all year round so it is only reasonable that the Ithacan honey is abundant and excellent. So far the families had taken care of their own production which was usually not enough to trade. In recent years the interest in beekeeping has risen sharply, as many now participate in the seminars by the beekeepers Association of Kefallonia and Ithaca, in Argostoli , supervised by the University of Athens. Old beekeepers, young people with an interest in organic farming, but also professionals in food processing and catering obtain methodical knowledge and experience, so that the label “Pure Honey of Our Own Production” has exactly this meaning. What distinguishes the honey of Ithaca is its aroma. This is due to the multiplicity of the sources of pollen available to the bees of the island and especially to the queen of herbs, the sage. Look in local groceries and summer bazaars in the square of Vathy. The Honey of Sage will flavour your autumn days.
Spoon Sweets of Ithaki
The island is despised for the sweets of the spoon such as grated quince, bitter orange, fig and berry preserves, followed by delicious cranberry, pear, and quince jams from an endless variety of local fresh fruit and sage honey.
Ravani of Ithaki
The ravani is made with rice, honey, sugar and oil, which are baked in a large saucepan. It is a wonderful and delicious sweet, which you can not meet anywhere else in Greece except in Ithaki.
Sykopita (Fig-Pie) of Ithaki
It is an easy, tasty sweet for the Lent. It does not contain eggs, butter, not even oil for it and it is healthy. It is made with figs, walnuts, sugar and honey.