Greece has always held a special spot in our vagabond hearts and, during a recent trip that took us through the Peloponnese and the island of Crete, we were again reminded of one of the reasons why it’s such a ‘honey’ of a destination.
During our travels, we bathed using soaps infused with Grecian honey, shampooed our hair with honey-based products, and soften our skin with lotions in which honey was a key ingredient. We slathered it onto yogurt for breakfast, then had it drizzled on fresh fruit slices and ate pastries and cakes drenched in it.
No matter the village in which we found ourselves, it wasn’t difficult to find a local version of the liquid gold for sale in containers ranging from baby-food sized jars (perfect to tuck in suitcases) to quart jars.
As we drove along narrow roadways that curled and climbed through rugged terrain of both the Peloponnese and Crete, (both among Greece’s honey producing areas), it became a contest of sorts to spot hives we passed along the way.
By the numbers, Greece boasts some 1.3 million hives and 25,000 beekeepers responsible for producing the 12,000 tons of honey.
The Greek honey season, which generally begins in March and continues to the end of November in the southernmost areas of the country, is a time during which hives are moved from field to field and slope to slope following orange blossoms in May, wild thyme in July, forests in September, and heather blossoms in spring and fall. Honey is harvested after the feeding periods to capture the best flavors.
We were returning to Crete for a fourth time because we can’t resist its charms – one of which is the thick hearty thyme honey produced there. The light-gold honey, with its savory, herbal flavor, leaves a hint of an after-taste so pleasant that we refer to it as our ‘nectar of the Gods.’
Truely Nectar of the Gods
However, it was in Poulithra, a coastal village in the Peloponnese – at the Hotel Byzantinon, (www.byzantinonhotel.gr ) where we were introduced to a blended honey; so rich in flavor and beautifully colored (a dark gold with an almost pearl metallic highlight) that we understood completely why it is called, Melitheon, which means, ‘honey of the Gods’.
Christos Kritsidimas, son of the hotel owners, said his family buy the honey in 10-15 kilo jars (22-33 lb. jars) to serve as part of the breakfast they provide guests. “Our guests kept asking where they could buy the honey. They wanted to take it home.”
Talks began between the honey suppliers and Christos, who formerly worked in the banking industry. It gave rise to “Vasiliki,” the company he now runs that produces and markets its sole product, Melitheon.
“Vasiliki,” he notes, “is my mother’s name. But it has a double meaning because it means ‘royalty’and we think of this product as the Rolls Royce of honey.”
Melitheonis created from black fir tree honey dew and thyme nectar, with smaller amounts of herbs and local flowers, including arbutus, maple, heather and tea, which contribute to its unique taste and appearance.
The black fir grows at the 1,500 meter (4,921 feet) elevation in the Mainalo mountain range that towers over the Peloponnese to the southwest of Tripoli. It’s a distinct species in the fir family and produces a honey known as Vanilias (vanilla) – the only Greek honey to carry a Protected Designation of Origin classification. This honey is considered an excellent source of essential trace elements, which include potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron, as well as numerous vitamins. It has lower concentrations in fructose and glucose than other varieties. And it doesn’t crystallize over time like other honeys.
“Our particular variety of honey provides a perfect balance in taste with the vanilla being less sweet and the thyme being sweeter,” Christos says. “It is delicately smooth in flavor with a butterscotch taste at the end.”
The black fir tree honey dew is a resin produced by micro-organisms in the tree trunk. Its production is easily affected by cold and wet temperatures at higher elevations. Beekeepers relocate the hives in the rugged terrain several times a year. Harvesting, filtering and packing are all done in the traditional fashion: by hand. For that reason, the production of Melitheon honey is limited this year to 12,000 jars.
Since “Vasiliki’s” inception three years ago, Christos has expanded the brand’s presence in Greece and introduced it at various trade fairs throughout Europe. Currently Melitheon can be found on-line at www.elenianna.com, which offers premium Mediterranean foods. This limited edition honey truly is the nectar of the Gods. – Story and photos by Jackie SmithJoel and Jackie Smith