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Friday, August 5, 2011

Creta Honey, Lassithi, Crete

Last summer we had a magical vacation on the island of Crete. Amazing archeological digs to explore, beautiful hidden valleys and plateaus to discover, and beaches, of every variety, to experience. You could spend two weeks just exploring all the beaches, and it would make for a great vacation. I kid you not. Here is a website describing all the beaches of Crete for your armchair traveling pleasure: Our favorite beach was Falsarna because of the never ending waves, perfect for body surfing, but I digress. Back to honey.

A Cretan treat is Greek yogurt with Greek honey, a combination of the slightly sour fresh, creamy yogurt and the sweet of the honey. Just thinking about it takes me back to the island. Driving around Crete you may notice alot of box bee hives, on hills of thyme mostly, but if you look for them you'll see them everyone. Honey is a local product, with a year round production (no real winter in Crete) and given the climate and terrain, most flower sources for Cretan honey come from aromatic herbs. They are famous for their thyme honey. A site dedicated to local Cretan products claims that "bees are fed from bushes that are only grown in Crete." I wish they would say what kind of bushes these were, but I suspect they are thyme.

The honey I have is from the Lassithi plateau, in the central bit of the eastern part of the island. The Lassithi plateau is an unexpected find and quite different from other areas in Crete. High in the mountains (840 meters above sea level) it can only be accessed from eight passes. Driving up through winding roads, ascending into tall, grey mountains and then coming through a pass to see the flat expanse of farmland is truly a wonderful sight. And did I mention the windmills? It took me a while to figure out that they use wind power to irrigate the land. While olive groves are found all over Crete and there are many orange orchards in the western areas of the island, the Lassithi plateau may be unique for having pear and apple orchards, almond trees and fields of other crops that you might not expect to be grown in Crete. The plateau has been inhabited since Minoan times and one of the main attractions is the Dikti cave, one (of three) legendary birthplaces of Zeus on the island.

Because the flower sources are so different, I suspected that Lassithi honey would be quite different from the other honeys of Crete, and I'm right. It is a mellow yellow-brown color with a very slightly cloudy look to it. It is runny but if you swirl a toothpick in it quickly you get a fine twirl of honey. It is a smooth honey that clings to itself. You have to roll it around a little in your mouth for it to dissolve. It has a mellow, soft, brown molasses flavor followed by a sharper sweet taste. There is a very subtle herb flavor but it is not very pronounced, not at all like thyme honey. Would it be too obvious to say that it would be perfect in yogurt? Because, it would be perfect in honey.

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