Nets in the road better R

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Old ollive press Tav Lemonia (1024x758)From November thru January, nearly every Cretan will be out in their olive groves, harvesting olives! Its a common sight to come round a corner and find nets spread out over the road to catch the olives.  And there’s the very distinctive noise of the rotary harvesting rakes – a sort of scratchy whine – you’ll need to come here to know what we mean!Plenty of Trees to harvest R

So how do you tell what’s a good olive oil?  Well, clearly you need to taste it!  But you don’t need to see it – all that stuff about its rich green colour (with one exception, see below) is just that, does not mean anything about its taste, at professional tastings blue glasses are used.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. With a little oil in a small glass, warm it in one hand, whilst closing the top of your glass with the other.
  2. Take a sip and aerate it in your mouth by drawing air in between your lips – may need practise to avoid spilling it down your front!  This should concentrate the aroma.
  3. Note the tastes, then swallow
  4. After swallowing a spicy burn should develop in your throat – its like the finish in a wine.  After a few seconds this should die away again. If it lasts longer this is a sign of poor quality.

The only instance when you should be careful of colour is if you see a yellow Cretan olive oil.  This is a sign of degradation through exposure to light.  A well-kept Cretan oil should be a deep green.  Olive oil is best kept in dark glass bottles out of sunlight at an even temperature not over 20 deg. Plastic bottles may contaminate the oil with plasticizers, and though metal tins are fine whilst unopened, afterwards the metals may react with the oil.

Our Tasting Notes

Recently we visited Terra Creta, a producer with one of the most modern olive mills in Europe, based in Kolymbari, Crete.  They have made this charming video which shows you how central the olive is to Cretan culture and life.  We tried several of their Cretan olive oils, guided by Costas, the plant manager, and here are our impressions.Olive oil and bread R

  • PDO Kolymbari Extra Virgin Olive Oil: grassy nose; mild taste, smooth on the palate and with very little spiciness.
  • Terra Creta Biological Olive Oil: stronger grassy nose and stronger grassy taste; much spicier aftertaste this is caused by the polyphenols.
  • Terra Creta 0.2% acidity Olive Oil: smoother texture; milder taste; spiciness develops slowly in the mouth and then dies away.  This limited production is from olives harvested in November, at the beginning of the harvest season.  At this time the olives yield less oil, but of a higher quality.

Cretans call the olive trees “the children of the earth” –  its in every Cretan’s blood and soul, passed from one generation to the other.  Cretan olive oil is made from the Koroneiki olive, with a small proportion of Tsunati.  The latter is typically used for eating, and has a fruitier taste but higher acidity.  This enables Cretan olive oils to be anything up to a medium fruitiness and spiciness.

You may have heard of “first cold pressing” being the best olive oil.  The maximum temperature for cold pressing is 27 degrees done to preserve vitamins, (mainly E and A).  After this pressing about 10% of the oil remains in the olive pulp.  This will typically be extracted by a different process using heat and chemicals, which destroys much of the benefits, but yields a very neutral and low acidity oil.  Therefore low acidity is not necessarily a measure of a good olive oil, but it is important for first cold pressed olive oil.  To be “Extra Virgin” it must have acidity less than 0.8% whilst “Virgin” olive oil can be up to 2% acidity.

Vouves old tree RCretan Olive oil contains approximately 200 polyphenols which give the oil its spiciness and bitterness, too much can affect taste;  therefore it is necessary to get the amount right!  Many of these phenols have not yet been fully explored.

And olives age well!  One of the 10 oldest olive trees in the world is in VOUVES in Crete. It was pretty old even when Christ was born, and may even have been around when the Minoans were inhabiting their palaces!Most modern in EU R

Its important that the olives are processed as soon after picking as possible, and this explains why there are so many olive mills, almost literally dotted around each village.  Each services their local area, and even larger producers like Terra Creta only take olives from their region.

At Panokosmos, we use the best olive oils, from a modern plant processing olives from local farmers.

If your interested we can set up a tour of Terra Creta in Kolymbari, which is less than an hour away.

 

The-Market

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We’ve got into a routine of going to a street market in Chania, to buy all our fruit and veg, yoghurt and cheeses.  Its on a Monday in a narrow street, just up from Elefteria Square. 
Its a real experience, and we’ve got to know some of the stall holders, and talk a bit in whatever – “with hands and feet” as Yasmin would say, a bit of Greek, English, German, and lots of hand waving, and smiling! The Market

Maria, the HoneyOne of our favorites is Maria, the Honey!  Her honeys come from their hives in Falassana, on the western most tip of Crete, and very unusually for Crete, she sells a whole series of separate flavours.  There’s the usual thyme honey – like you can get all over the island, aromatic and intense; heather reputed to be the most beneficial with minerals and vitamins.  There’s pine honey, dark, spicy and piquant; and our favorite, orange blossom, with the most gorgeous delicate citrus flavours.

Then there’s the orange man, very important for us with our daily fresh orange juice!  He’s a gem, so generous, always friendly and cheerful, and always insisting on giving us extra fruit, mandarins, clementines, eating oranges.A riot of Orange

Mastorakis is the dairy, based in Tsitsifes, a mountain village nearby Xiliomoudou.  They have the best yoghurt in the area  we believe – its tangy and sharp, with a firm texture.Mastorakis for cheese, yoghurt, fresh milk  What’s unique about it, in our experience is that it does not produce any whey over time – so many of the other yoghurts are half liquid after a few days.  

Another of our favorites, is their low fat goats milk cheese – beautiful texture, and delicate taste.  They also have fresh goat and sheep milk, but we need to be there early as they often sell out.


 

There’s a stall selling virtually only herbs – heaps of vivid green parsley, dill, mint, sometimes coriander and fennel.The Herb Man

 

Its strange that the Cretans don’t deal with more herbs, and their cooking reflects a conservative approach – thyme, oregano, parsley, dill and mint – but we love to grow and use other herbs.

Vegerables & fruit, piled highAll the serious shoppers have a shopping trolley – partly so you can thrust your way thru the crowd, running over feet not quick enough to get out of the way!, but also to carry the massive amounts of fresh produce.

 

 

10 kilos of oranges; apples, pears, bananas; broccoli, courgettes, red peppers; herbs & spring onions; potatoes, onions, carrots; oak leaf & lollo biondi lettuce, rucola, and the local greens: stamnagathi & others.

 

Olives - with pergamon on the right

 

 

 

The olive man did not want his picture taken – maybe its his religion, maybe he’s shy, or maybe its the tax man?!  But his olives are great, we particularly like the ones preserved with pergamon – bitter orange.  We asked him why each of the olives is sliced, “its what we always do” he said!

Olives

Then its back home again for a huge unpacking session, filling fridge, washing and prepping herbs, stocking up the store cupboard.

 

New-paint-job-for-the-House

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New paint job for the House

 

There’s been a bit of a gap in the blogging, not for want of things to say, just time to say them!  We’ve been back to Northern Europe for a month – lots of snow in Hamburg, and very cold.  Here we’ve had some dramatic weather – 140km/h wind gusts recorded, but we are still here! Casualty Pithoi Now wind back to late February.  They call it Kokkino Vrechi – “red rain”.  It comes from the Sahara on a hot South wind, strong enough last year to strip off a gutter and 15 tiles!

 

On the night of 21st Feb, we just such an experience.  Luckily this time, no house damage, but plenty out in the garden.  We lost a large pithoi out on the swimming pool terrace, despite several attempts by John to wire it up (again) to the railings.Chairs fighting

 

 

 

Our terrace chairs had been fighting up on the East balcony.

 

 

 

Raki for the cypresses

 

 

The cypresses look like they’ve had one too many raki.

 

 

 

Car Camoflage

 

 

 

 

 

The car had been neatly camouflaged out on the parking area.

 

 

Windows to clean

 

 

 

There’s plenty of window cleaning to be done,

 

 

 

Oh, and whoops!  The concrete mixer has been blown over.

Whoops! Concrete Mixer Down

Yes – blown over!

 

Greek wine fair

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We always look forward to the wine fair in Chania.  If you think of Greek wines, this may conjure up carefree student backpacking holidays, dreadful hangovers.  That white wine with the curious reminder of pine disinfectant.  But Greek and Cretan wines are a real gem, and, until recently at least, a hidden secret.

Greek wine fair

The quality and range of wines made in Crete has improved dramatically over the last 10-15 years.  There are now over 30 wineries on the island from boutique to quite large commercially oriented establishments.  Many now export, to over 20 countries, including China!  Antonis at DourakisTypical these wineries are family run businesses, such as the Dourakis winery in Alikambos.  Set up by Andreas the father, it is now run by his son Antonis, an oeneologist trained in Germany, and his daughter Evie.Milling around

The wineries on the island strive to use the unique Cretan microclimate and terroir – the topography, soil composition and microbiology.  Many are now concentrating on growing vines without articificial fertilizers or chemical sprays to produce organic wines. The vines are heavily pruned to produce small bunches of grapes with full aromas and concentrated flavour.  Most producers select and pick the bunches by hand and rapidly transfer to the winery for pressing.Wines of Crete

Over the last 20 years, these family businesses have invested in the latest technologies for quality wine making.  These include low temperature fermentation in stainless steel.  The use of gravity in the winemaking processes to avoid the use of artificial pressure.  Bottling without oxygen to preserve the wine.  Wines are stored in French or American oak barrels, often used only once, in underground cellars at stable controlled temperatures.
Ancient grape varieties are being rediscovered.  These vines are carefully planted and nurtured, the resulting grapes blended to produce some exciting new wines.  If you care to come to Crete and stay at Panokosmos you can experience them with us.  We offer all our wines by the glass so you can easily try the range.  You will hear some exotic names such as Mandilari, Plyto, Kotsifali and Vidiano.  These are often blended with international varieties to produce aromatic, full flavoured fine wines – the Cretan producers use a wide range of grape varieties.

 

At the Wines of Crete fair in Chania we dutifully tasted over 35 different wines, to build on our range of offerings.  We replaced some of our Greek mainland offerings (particularly from around Thessaloniki and Mt Olympus) with more local Cretan wines.  We have chosen four new wineries.  There is a wonderful new white to pair with fish and white meat dishes. Nikos GavalasNikos Gavalas has blended Vidiano with Vilana, both native grapes, to produce a wine with an aroma of spring meadows, flinty acidity and rich flavours.  Its a perfect alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc.

A great easy drinking rose, hints of berries, full flavoured with a lovely deep pink colour comes from Diamantakis which has the local Mandilari blended with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then there’s the satisfying Silvas full flavoured red, with well balanced tannins, a nose of plums and honey, with a long finish.  Finally there is the Helios Liatiko from Douloufakis, a delicious red dessert wine.  Dried fruits and cocoa on the nose, notes of prunes and a complex rich mouthful, long aftertaste.Talking Wine

As well as their olives, the Cretans also have a long tradition of growing their own vines for wine.  Every family will have their own vineyards, along with their olive groves.  Most will make wine simply and store it in barrels.  In the tavernas if you ask for a red wine you will probably be given a boxed red from one of the bigger wineries located around Heraklion.  This is perfectly good quaffing wine, and will go well with Brizolas (pork chops cooked on a wood fired grill) or lamb chops (usually on the menu as “lamp”!).  Great-2Bsetting-2B-25281024x768-2529But if you ask specifically for “your own” or village or “brown” wine, you will get their own offering.  This is an acquired taste – if you come late in the year, you will get the new production which can be a deep red, fresh and flavourful.

As the year goes on the maturing in barrels leads to greater oxidation and a more sherry like flavour.  It gives the wine body and substance, but is quite a way from what you might expect!  Some families – like our accountant for example, bottle their wines, after adding a little raki.  This helps them keep, maintains their colour and preserves and enhances their flavours.  Unfortunately his wine is not for sale!

Morning-2Bclouds-2Bover-2Bthe-2Bmountains-2B-25281024x263-2529From Panokosmos, in the hills of the Apokoronas, you are within easy reach of a number of these interesting wineries.  We can give you directions to them, and arrange for you to have special tours and tastings with our contacts there.  Some also offer food and there are summer concerts and musical events at their establishments.  These can provide you with a very special experience, music under the stars to delight your ears, a traditional meal in your belly, and a good glass of wine in your hand!

Panokosmos Villa and Pool

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 Ten tips to getting the best deals for cheap flights to Crete

Pool from end terrace better

1. Book early if you want the best prices.  Get on the budget airlines newsletter distribution, at least Ryanair and Easyjet from UK – this will give you early warning of the new summer schedules, as well as special offers.  Routes to Crete for the summer are out latest by Oct previous year.  Register with them to save you time booking (by storing pax data) and give you a heads up on relevant travel info.

2. Check who flies to Crete from your country.  These days there are many, some less well known budget airlines flying into Crete.  Here is a pretty up to date list of airlines flying in from around Europe.Great-2Bsetting-2B-25281024x768-2529

3. Check out departure airports too – in UK there are many northern alternatives eg EMA, Leeds/Bradford.  In the south don’t forget Bristol, Bournemouth, Birmingham, as well as the LHR/LGW/LST/LUT Londons.Al Canea on the harbour front at Chania For Hamburg, Bremen is an alternative, about 1h by train.  Often alternatives can be unexpectedly cheaper.  Often easier to look at the reverse flight – chose Chania on the route map, and see what airports are served – here for Ryanair

4. Think about staying overnight near the airport if its a long drive.  Many hotels, particularly smaller private ones, offer a good value “stay and parking” offer for the duration of your holiday, which may work out cheaper than long stay at the airport.Our-orange-man-2521

5.If you are up for it, there are cheap flights to Crete not flying direct.  But watch out for odd routings – last summer one guest family flew from UK via Prague.  Norwegian are big on this sort of thing.  Rome is a Ryanair alternative stopover for Crete.

6. Beware weird (typically Ryanair) airports – Hamburg-Lubeck is 1h from Hamburg by motorway; Frankfurt-Hahn nearly 90min; if you need to change in Rome, remember Ciampino (used by budget airlines) is 2 ½h from Fiumicino, the airport used by all the rest!

7. Coming to Crete, consider both Heraklion and Chania – the latter is a Ryanair hub, and served by many airlines, but the former has many more flights.Timing and cost may favour one in and the other out – bear in mind a one way car rental will only cost 30 euros extra.  Chania is only 50 min from Panokosmos, and whilst Heraklion is a 2h drive on a good highway,  its a lovely way to get a first sight of the countryside.Lyra maker

8. For cheap flights to Crete flight time of day affects costs – often early or late flights are cheaper if that’s important to you.  If you appreciate more civilized flight times check out return flight – often the early start aircraft will  be routed onto the same return leg, leading to a late morning departure rather than an 0600 red eye!

9. Economy means no hold luggage, and no frills, but for a bit more comfort worth having allocated seats – a few euros,  and speedy boarding at the gate gets you ahead of the crowd, gives you more time to store luggage on the plane, less jostled and an opportunity to get settled.West-2BCrete-2BNew-2BAd-2Bcopy  Bring your own sarnies if pushed for cash, and buy water airside will still be cheaper than on the plane.  But they are pretty tough on drinking your own alcohol on board, so don’t try it!

 

 

10. And if you’ve got this far, check out panokosmos for a place of peace and tranquility to recover from all the hassle you’ll have been thru to get out to Crete.

From pool terrace

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From pool terraceA lot has happened in the two and a half years since the Red Rain!  We’ve established our holiday business here in Crete and seen around forty parties of guests.  They’ve come from all over the world – from New Zealand to Canada, Spain to Romania.SC in Use

We’ve entertained Americans, Scots, Dutch, Germans, Austrians, as well as a fair number from that country which is still, Brexit notwithstanding, in the EU!

We’ve had folk so young we couldn’t arrange hire cars for them, to those in their ninth decade – and those latter were some of the most adventurous and full of curiosity!

This year we served over 180 breakfasts in six different locations around the garden and 25 three course evening meals, each with an individual personalised menu!

We’ve established a great selection of Greek wines, mostly Cretan, for example Dourakis lovely fruity Chardonnay (at the moment a one off, Impromptu, but we hope it will become a regular).  We can see the vinery just across the Apokoronas from our terraces!Barrel Sign

Douloufakis in Heraklion, makes a Sauvignon Blanc, great with our stuffed dorade or sea bass fillets with mushrooms and salsa.  We are also finding good wines made from some of the local grape varieties – Kotsifali, and Agioritiko.

Yasmin has been rediscovering her German heritage, honing her cake making skills.  Guests have had poppy seed cheesecake, Panokosmos applecake with home made custard.  And how’d you fancy frangipane fig tart, drizzled with orange blossom honey, served with Greek yoghurt & whipped cream?The Trifle

 

 

We’ve found some great beers from microbreweries on the islands like Septem with a beer for each day of the week – the 8th is a particular gem!  And what better than Campari and fresh squeezed orange out on the pool terrace as the sun goes down?  Want a touch of England in the summer, then our Pimms comes with a menagerie of fruit, and mint to tickly your nose, picked straight from the garden!

Since the Red Rain days we’ve set up a new website, ably created by a young Texan web designer, who came to stay with us back in May 2014.  We’ve been mostly talking on Facebook, with a smattering on Twitter, but now we feel we have enough to say to take up blogging again.Pool from end terrace better

So here goes – watch this space!

!