You might have had yogurt for breakfast. Maybe even “Greek style” yogurt that is popular today. I did as well.
The yogurt in my bowl was from a dairy farm in Nea Kios, a seaside village about four miles from my kitchen here in Nauplion, Greece. Made from sheep’s milk, it was thick and tangy. You need two spoons to get it out of the container: one to scoop and the other to scrape it from the first spoon into the dish.
I topped it with dark golden honey and walnuts. The honey was harvested from bee colonies that gathered nectar from the purple-white flowers of summer thyme growing in the mountainside village of Kranidi about twenty miles down the coast from here.
I’m sure of the provenance, because I purchased the honey and yogurt directly from the second and third-generation owners of both businesses. They were selling at booths set up at a fair. The enthusiastic Katerina at the yogurt stand insisted that I taste the various styles of yogurt. She also had a glossy brochure showing photos of the dairy farm and the production process. To be sure, the family business had been around a long time without the need for any sales literature.
The same was true at the honey stand. Several jars with disposable spoons were offered for tasting. Giorgios, the twenty-something young man in charge, explained that his family had been harvesting honey for several generations. He had an advanced degree from the Athens University of Economics and Business. But not finding a job, he returned to Kranidi and applied his business acumen to marketing his family’s products.
If either the yogurt or honey were available in the U.S. they would be featured in an Eater Heatmap and a New York Times food section write-up.
But here in Greece farm-to-table products have simply been a way of life for years. Even today produce is purchased primarily through local farmers markets or from small independent markets that specialize in fruits and vegetables. In my town of Nauplion the “laiki”, or farmers’ market, is held twice a week – Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Farmers load up their trucks and bring their oranges, nectarines, cherries, watermelons, leafy greens – whatever the fields are giving forth, and hawk them under portable tents along the designated street in town. The scene is lively with each stall owner cajoling passersby to purchase – the sweetest! freshest! best quality! -- that they have to offer.
Yes, you can find a meager produce section at supermarkets. But it is not how Greeks are accustomed to shopping for their kitchens. What has changed in the past twenty years, and was accelerated by the debt crisis and subsequent widespread unemployment, is that the farm-to-table way of life has donned a mantle of modern business. As Giorgios and Katerina show, a new generation is turning long-standing local production into boutique industries. They are leapfrogging food trends in the U.S.
In the early 2000s much was made of countries in sub-Saharan Africa going from having no telephone service at all directly to widespread mobile phone use. In much the way they leapfrogged landlines, Greece skipped an era of mainstream food (with some exceptions) and is simply updating the traditional ways of delivering locally made foodstuffs.
It is really heartening to see that the Greek spirit and ability to make the most of any circumstance is alive and well in 2017. Kali Orexi!
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