GET TO KNOW NAXOS TRADITIONAL PRODUCTS & LOCAL DELICACIES
Due to its size, the central position in the Aegean Sea and natural wealth, Naxos island has been self-sufficient since antiquity and produces a plethora of traditional products. Its olive oil and fruits were renowned throughout the archipelago, while its wine was likened to the nectar consumed by the Gods.
Naxos is also renowned for its unique cheeses, such as arseniko, gruyere, myzithra, xinomyzithra, touloumotyri, anthotyro, afromyzithra, thilykotyri, kefalotyri, kopanisti, ladotyri, manouri.
The island also produces excellent thyme honey and good wine.
The potatoes of Naxos have such taste and fine quality that has made it famous.
The island’s fertile land continues to supply pure ingredients to the Naxian cuisine, while hundreds of traditional recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation have contributed to the creation of a plethora of flavorful dishes.
Arseniko is a kind of spicy kefalotyri cheese produced in the traditional way in the pens of Naxos uplands, using sheep’s or goat’s full milk with the addition of whey.
After the cheese thickens it is drained in special baskets called tirovola.
Its color is light yellow and in the beginning it tastes sweet but after a few weeks of maturation it becomes spicy.
Grated Arseniko is ideal for spaghetti, as stated by acknowledged connoisseurs.
SWEETS & DELICACIES
Sweets and delicacies occupy a distinct place in Naxos’s gastronomic constellation.
Recipes have been handed down from one generation to the next and are prepared in the traditional way with pure local products. You may find a large variety of sweets in most villages & shops.
One of Naxos’s best-known traditional sweets is Melachrino – a walnut pie containing a small quantity of locally produced citron liqueur, usually served with aimaki ice cream which is made from sheep’s milk.
Xerotigana are fried dumplings and are a traditional treat, offered at various fetes.
Endowed with a wide variety of fruit trees, Naxos also offers an array of spoon sweets and preserves, the most characteristic of them being the varieties of cherry, citron, quince, sour cherry and papilona (a cross-fertilization between bergamot and bitter orange), which are sold at many outlets on the island.
Zamponi is a salted pork leg and is offered sliced as an appetizer.
It is similar to Italian prosciutto in appearance but has a spicier and saltier taste.
According to Apiranthos locals, for the Zamboni to be a success the pig should be slaughtered when northerly winds blow because only then is the meat drained properly.
After draining, the entire leg is coated with a mixture of salt, pepper and cinnamon and is kept in a chest covered with coarse salt. It is left to ripen for about six months.
Naxos’s renowned citron liqueur is one of the three Greek aperitifs marketed with a Protected Designation of Origin.
Citron groves are cultivated in the plains of Eggares and Sagri, but also in the hinterland valleys, where winters are mild and summers are cool.
Citron leaves are used to produce the “Naxos citron” liqueur and the fruit itself is used in various spoon sweets.
The production of the citron-flavored spirit, originally known as kitrorako, is a very old affair, but around 1870 a new distillate was developed from alcohol and citron leaves – today’s widely known Naxos citron liqueur.
The product was exported to many places abroad which had thriving Greek communities (Russia, USA, Egypt, Asia Minor), took part in many Greek and international fairs and won many awards and distinctions (including gold medals in Marseilles in 1904, Bordeaux in 1907, Athens in 1903 and 1914 and Thessaloniki in 1936).
The production process starts with the collection of citron leaves when they are fully fragrant – that is, from September and possibly throughout the winter.
After careful selection to exclude dry and diseased leaves, they are bathed in alcohol in a traditional pot still. The essential oils of the leaves are dissolved in the alcohol and the distillate gives three basic spirit types: white at 33 degrees, green at 30 degrees and yellow at 36 degrees.
Due to its rich flora and high fluctuations in altitude, Naxos is ideal for the production of honey.
Bees mainly feed on thyme and heather, and in the summer, on sage, oregano and spring flowers. The largest part of the 35 to 40 tons of greek naxian honey produced annually is thyme honey – the rest being mainly heather and spring flower varieties.
Naxos is well-known for the quality and taste of its potatoes, which are cultivated especially in the valley of Livadi.
The quantities produced in Glinado and the other villages in the valley are such that permit their export to other parts of Greece.
Cultivation of the vegetable began in 1953 with the founding by the government of the Seed Potato Center, which made Livadi the officially designated area for the production of seedlings that would be distributed to other areas of Greece.
The initiative proved such a success, that the potato developed into a monoculture in the area and afforded considerable income benefits to the local population.
The Naxian potatoes are considered the best potatoes in Greece and are even available abroad.
Today, the Naxian cheese industry includes a wide variety of tastes.
Interestingly, many local producers persist with traditional production methods while having modernized their installations.
Only a few characteristic Naxian cheeses are presented here but it is worth seeking out more.
- Naxos Gruyere – The most widely-recognized Naxos cheese is the Naxian cheeses gruyere, the production of which has been protected since 1988 and carries a Protected Designation of Origin (PDI) since 1996. It is made with a minimum of 80% cows milk, 20% goat’s and cheep’s milk at most and traditional rennet. It is a hard, table cheese, with a pleasant flavor and fragrance.
- Kopanisti – Another PDI cheese is kopanisti. Depending on the era it is made with pasteurized goat’s or cow’s milk of Naxos. It is soft cheese ripening with flavor quite strong and quite spicy.
- Xinomyzithra – Another well-known Naxian cheese is xinomyzithra, a cream cheese with a slightly sour taste, mainly made with goat’s milk. It is ready in 24 hours after the milk has been drawn and has to be consumed within a few days because it is fresh and contains no preservatives.
- Xinotyri is the same cheese as xinomyzithra, only it is left to dry for several weeks, until it becomes hard.
- Arseniko – Another traditional cheese variety is kefalotyri, locally known as arseniko (“masculine”), which is produced with 100% sheep’s milk. It is a hard cheese in cylindrical shape, with a hard but relatively thin outer layer and a color between off-white to off-yellow. It has a pleasant salty and piquant taste and rich aroma.
- Thylikotyri – Besides “masculine,” Naxos also produces thylikotyri (“feminine cheese”). This is produced right after arseniko, it is white in color, with a velvety texture, light buttery flavor and a balanced salty taste. Despite being low-fat (19%-21%), it has a pleasant taste and it best accompanies wine.
- Komos – Another cheese worth tasting is komos, prepared as a sequel to thylikotyri. The cheesemakers would gather what was left of thylikotyri and let it ferment with aromatic mountain herbs. The retult was komos, a very low-fat cheese that best accompanies spirits, ouzo and tsipouro.