Greece is known for its olives and olive oil, which is, understandably, an extract or fat from the olive fruit. The olive fruit comes from the olive tree. In Greece, 60% of its land grows these trees. It is the third biggest exporter of olive oil in the international market.
The oil is made by pressing whole olives. This extract is used in cuisine, soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. As in the ancient Greece, it can also fuel oil lamps. The color is green and is smooth, the flavor subtle.
There are different kinds of cooking oil, like palm, canola and coconut, but olive oil is the main oil used in countries around the Mediterranean. However, not all olive oils are created equal. Here are the different variants:
- Extra virgin olive oil has a stronger flavor, and is best used for salads as an ingredient or dressing. If you are eating your food cold, use this kind of olive oil. This is the best quality of olive oil that comes from the fresh pressing of the olives, no chemicals or water added.
- Virgin olive oil is of lesser quality with higher acidity.
- Olive oil that are of lower grade, but can still nonetheless, be used.
COOKING WITH OLIVE OIL
Many do not recommend cooking with olive oil, as high temperature compromises its taste. However, it can be done when you use refined olive oil, but not extra virgin olive oil. When this kind of olive oil goes through high heat, 410 – 421 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on its fatty acid level, the unrefined, pure particles of the oil are burned, and its taste deteriorates.
Freshness is a factor when using olive oil. Very fresh oil tastes different; over time, oils become stale. After a year, olive oil should not be eaten cold, like with salads, but used for cooking instead. A great recommendation is to have two bottles of olive oil – one for cooking and one for use with the salads.
Since most of the cattle in Greece are goats, understandably, they produce a lot of cheese and in so many varieties. Here are a few that you have to sample:
- Feta cheese, which can are more creamy and delicious when you buy in the market where it is stored in big barrels.
- Graviera is golden-white cheese, a bit hard and is best eaten cubed. It can also be fried as saganaki, which is cheese appetizer.
- Tyropita, cheese pie, is widely available in bakeries. It is layers of filo with cheese filling.
- Or you can try a Cretan dakos topped with mizithra, which is a soft white cheese. Dakos is dried bread topped with tomatoes.
SERVING A CHEESE PLATE
Cheese makes good appetizers. But serving it in your party takes some skill and style. Here is a quick lesson on serving a cheese plate:
- Purchase different varieties of cheeses. Mix familiar ones with not so familiar ones. You can pick one from each variety:
- Aged cheese – Cheddar or Swiss cheese.
- Soft cheese – Brie, Constant Bliss.
- Firm cheese – Provolone, Gruyere.
- Blue Cheese – Stilton.
- Cheese from different milks of goat, cow and sheep.
- Purchase what will go with your cheese. Here are a few suggestions:
- Flavored crackers to go with mild cheese.
- Seedy crackers with goat cheese.
- Baguette slices can go with the soft cheese.
- Soft cheese, like feta, can also go with honey and maple syrup.
- Nut brittle or praline bacon can temper the blue cheese.
- Spicy food, like apple mustard, will go well with hard cheese.
- Thin slices of onions will complement the blue cheese or the cream cheese.
- How will you serve the cheese? As dessert, you need less cheese, say 1 oz per person. As appetizer, you may have to serve more. As part of a light meal, prepare 2 oz per person.
- In serving, arrange the different cheeses from the mildest flavor to the strongest. Arrange it clockwise so that your mildest and strongest will be side-by-side.
- Add accompaniments to your cheese like toasted nuts, slices of fruits, dried fruits, fig cake or wine jelly.
- Complement with the perfect drink, preferably wine. The blue cheese will go best with dessert wines like Port.
History shows the Greeks have been making wines since 6,500 years ago. However, its neighbor Italy rose to international prominence as a major wine country ahead of Greece. This explains Greece’s less important role in the wine industry worldwide. It was only revitalized in the recent years with introduction of modern technology and machinery. Greece produces red and white wines, spread throughout its different regions. The best wines are thought to come from Thasos, Lesbos and Chios.
Pairing Wine with Food
It is all about individual taste, with no hard and fast rules. It’s all about your personal palate. However, there are some basics that are good to take note of for a better wine experience that maximizes flavors of both food and beverage:
- Beef and lamb – red wine, like the full-bodied red of cabernet or shiraz.
- Chicken – white wine, generally. If it is grilled or roasted chicken, Chardonnay would be best.
- Seafood and fish – white wine. But if you are having a hearty fish stew, pair with Pinot Noir.
- Spicy food – sweet wine, like Riesling. Avoid Chardonnay. It would be too bitter.
- Tomato-based dish – Barbera or Zinfandel.
- Cheese – any full-bodied wine, like Shiraz which pair best with cheddar. Soft cheese will go great with dry Riesling. Blue cheese will match sweet wine.
- Dessert – sweet wine is good if the dessert is not overly sweet itself.
Live life, eat well. Not all of us have the luxury of travelling to other countries. Fortunately, these days, specialty restaurants have sprouted, and you can get a Greek cuisine experience even in your own locality – the beautiful New York City.
Sit back, relax, have some wine and cheese, and let’s toast to the mythical Greek gods and goddesses.