Can stubbornness against all odds or the toil and struggle in the lands and waters of the homeland’s borders be rewarded? Our debt to the Greeks living in the country’s border regions is enormous, collective and personal for each one of us. Any initiative to highlight their contribution is nothing compared to the recognition they rightfully deserve.
A small token of gratitude was the ceremony for the 16th Quality Awards of Kathimerini’s influential food magazine Gastronomos, which traveled to Evros this year, a region that is finding its rhythm again after the devastating wildfires of the summer. The event exclusively honored producers from border regions of Greece – from Evros to the island of Kasos, and from the northern regional unit of Prespes to Chios. There, the magazine discovered producers operating hundreds of kilometers away from the Greek capital, often under adverse conditions. These people are active and dynamic, standing out not only for the quality of the food they produce, but also for their ethos, and who serve as a motivation for other young people to stay and work in their place of origin.
The event was hosted in the old warehouses of the Alexandroupoli Customs Office, which since the beginning of the last century have been associated with life at the city’s port – as an entry and exit point for people and goods and therefore as a fundamental hub for the economic life of the wider region. Acclaimed actor Nikos Psarras was the presenter.
The event was graced with the presence of Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou – whose family originates from the prefecture of Thrace – and attended by distinguished guests from Alexandroupoli, representatives of the Hellenic Armed Forces, businesspeople and all the awardees from every corner of the country who traveled to the northern port city for the great ceremony. Kathimerini’s Executive Editor Alexis Papachelas noted that for the people of Evros and other Greeks living in border regions, modern patriotism is not a post on Twitter, but a daily battle, like that fought in March 2020, during the migrant crisis at the border.
“Homeland is the place where we cry, and every time I saw Stavroupoli appearing on the horizon I teared up,” Sakellaropoulou later said on the podium.
Those who serve as examples
The ceremony was dedicated to the memory of monk Epiphanios of Mylopotamos (1956-2020), a true gastronomist who drew attention to the gastronomy and viticulture of Mount Athos from around the world. The Special Prize was awarded to the “lady of the rock,” Irene Katsotourchi-Thireou, the only resident of the island of Kinaros and a living symbol of what it means to be a border resident. The award was received by Akathi Katsotourchi, Irene’s daughter, because her mother did not want to leave “the island, her animals,” as she told the audience.
The Honorary Award was given to Angeliki Giannakidi, the founder and president of the Ethnological Museum of Thrace. Giannakidi is a tireless guardian of Thracian traditions, which she has been documenting for decades, with the aim of preserving and promoting them. “How many times have I said in my life, ‘I’m giving up, that’s it, it’s over.’ And yet, every time I kept going on, looking at the olive trees that the Thracians used to carve, the sea that they fished, the land that they plowed,” she said.
The editor-in-chief of Gastronomos, Angelos Rentoulas, announced that Kathimerini and the magazine were offering an undergraduate scholarship at Perrotis College, a division of the American Farm School, to a student from Evros. The scholarship will cover all four years of study, starting in the academic year 2024-2025, and is a symbolic move that will give a young person the opportunity to realize their dream and acquire the knowledge that will contribute to the agricultural development of the country.
The new generation
The Olive Oil Production Award was won by producers Dimitris and Vassilis Adamidis, owners of Konos – Ktima Micheli, which has been producing olive oil in Evros for four generations. Their product came first in the blind taste test organized by Gastronomos with the Olive Oil Tasting Laboratory of Kalamata, at the University of the Peloponnese. However, we do not know when this excellent olive oil will be produced again. The massive wildfires last August almost completely destroyed the trees of the Michelis Estate, which spread out on Konos Hill, and which had been planted by their great-grandfather. The award was a message of support and solidarity to the Adamidis brothers, who have been producing one of the leading olive oils in Greece for years and do not intend to stop.
The Cheese Production Award was won by the Vassilas Cheese Factory on Lesvos for its outstanding ladotyri (oil cheese). Its concentrated taste, ideal maturation and musky aroma are due to the passion of Giorgos Vassilas from the village of Mesotopos. A fourth-generation graduate cheesemaker, Giorgos receives the fresh milk at dawn directly from the family farm’s dairy, which hosts 2,000 goats and sheep of the local breeds. The small family unit uses traditional, inherited recipes to make a series of fine cheeses.
One more distinction, the Legume Production Award, was won by Prespa Top of Manolis and Vassilis Dimitropoulos from Lefkonas. With vision and hard work they have expended the family estate. Today their small company produces 90 tons of protected geographical indication (PGI) elephant beans and large flat beans, while also managing 60 tons from other producers. With their work and presence they give life to a small village of 100 inhabitants.
The Consumer Product Award was won by Thrace Mills – I. Ouzounopoulos SA, a Thracian business founded a century ago by the industrialist Georgios Ouzounopoulos, a refugee from Malgara in Eastern Thrace, who settled in Feres. Today Thrace Mills, with Nadia Ouzounopoulou at the reins – the third generation of the family – is an important flour industry with innovative products for professionals and intense export activity.
The Meat and Sausage Production Award was given to Kerkini Farm. Eleni and Vassilis Papadopoulos were born in Kerkini, to families that relied on agricultural tradition and animal breeding. In 1999 they decided to open their own butcher shop called Bilis – Farma Kerkini. Two years later they took a big step and created their own Greek water buffalo breeding unit, which today boasts 300 animals. Among their most famous products is the excellent kavourmas and sausages made from 100% buffalo meat without preservatives.
The Wine Production Award went to four wineries from Limnos that cultivate indigenous varieties and have become the best promoters of the island: the Limnos Wines Agricultural Cooperative, the Garalis Winery, Estate Chatzigeorgiou and Limnos Organic Wines.
The Evi Voutsina Award, which is given every year to small producers of rare and exquisite local products, was awarded this year to Vonapartis Ioannis – Kasos Cheese, which produces the unique sitaka cheese – a type of soft sweet cheese with a yogurty texture. It is made with local milk from goats that graze on the island’s slopes by Ioannis Vonapartis and Mary Diakaki, both of whom grew up learning about cheese.
The Honey Production Award went to Honey Hasapis, from Limnos in the North Aegean. He fell in love with bees in 2001 and since then he has been producing top quality honey from the virgin wild thyme meadows of the island, mainly in the coastal area of Moudros and Skandali. According to an analysis by the Department of Food Science and Nutrition of the University of the Aegean, it has a high content of wild thyme pollen and a strong antimicrobial effect, superior to that of the famous Manuka.
The Entrepreneurship Award was won by the Chios Mastiha Growers Association and the association’s marketing arm, Mediterra SA. Its executives modernized the promotion of mastiha for its unique properties, established the famous mastihashops, expanded in international markets and this year they are launching the Mastiha Research Center, which will investigate new uses in the food and pharmaceutical industry.
Closing the ceremony, Angelos Rentoulas said that there must be a plan on the part of the state to support such small producers and businesses because “it is our national duty.”
The same spirit was echoed by Angeliki Giannakidi: “We will stay here no matter what has happened. We will stay and fight!”
This article was previously published at ekathimerini.com.