The fertile earth and the knowledgable farmers of the island have led to Crete’s self-sufficiency and delicious products.
Here are some great foods to take home:
The cheeses made in Amari and Mylopotamos (in the Rethymnon regional unit) are the most famous of the island’s cheeses. Ask for graviera (a hard, slightly sweet cheese usually made with sheep’s milk) that’s been aged for 8 months or more at any supermarket on the island.
In Chania, you can find the Rethymnon cheeses at the shop Flemetakis (tel. +30 28210.57395), at the Municipal Market. We recommend the graviera from the cheesemaker Gasparakis (tel. +30 28310. 41072), the goat’s cheese from Tirokomio (tel. +30 28320.22360), and the myzithra (a fresh cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk) from Vogiatzidakis (tel. +30 28310.91209)
Traditionally, the recipes for “eptazymo” (meaning “seven-leavened”) bread, which is used to make some of the most famous rusks, were kept as valuable secrets, and some of the older homemakers still keep theirs well-hidden.
Aside from the rusks made with eptazymo, the most special wheat rusks are those made by Mistraki (tel. (+30) 28310-31397). Kneaded by hand and baked in wood-burning ovens, they’re so light and crisp, it feels like eating freshly baked bread. Visit them in the Atsipopoulo area or ask for their rusks at the island’s supermarkets and delicatessens.
Wine from local grape varieties
A collaboration between about twenty wine producers around the island has led to a well-organized community, aiming to make it easy for visitors to find, and learn about, local high quality wines made from the fruits of centuries-old vineyards.
You can purchase these native varieties, such as Vidiano, Vilana, Liatiko, and Thrapsathiri, at the wineries around the island (find all the wineries through www.winesofcrete.gr).
Most olive oil in Crete is made from the Koroneiki olive (considered by many to produce the best oil), although some also use the Tsounati variety.
Ask for the olive oil from the Vassilakis Estate (tel. +30 28410.33653) in the Mirabello region. They are among the few producers who also grow Mouratolia olives, a product which, in spite of its excellent flavour, is rarely cultivated due to its low yield per tree. They are sold in jars, soaked in brine with herbs, vinegar, and sea salt.
To make Crete’s best honeys, bees gather nectar from herbs considered to have healing properties, such as thyme, ironwort (enjoyed as tea in Crete), and oregano, and from trees such as acacia and pine. Ask for products from small producers at the traditional cafes in the villages.
Ask for Cretan zelkova honey from producer Gergeri (tel. +30 28940.41120) and from the Heraklion-based producer Marousis (available at the grocery store Alati tis Gis, tel. +30 28117.58458), or the pine and thyme honey from the producer Meligyris. (tel. +30 28910.29066).
This sweet treat, served on every joyous occasion, can be purchased at any bakery and pastry shop. In Heraklion, we recommend those sold at Aretousa (19 Kosmon, tel. (+30) 28102.80084).
Homemade preserved foods
Homemade “canned” goods; jars of wild artichokes in oil and pickled wild onions are the best meze dishes to enjoy with raki, and they’re also great ingredients to cook with.
But they’re rare. Passing through the small villages of the island, ask the old ladies, who you’ll spot sitting and chatting in the street, where to get some. If they don’t make them themselves, they will likely know where to go.