Friday, June 01, 2012

cheese making, bread making and Venetian wells in Crete

 the day started with a visit to the ancient Venetian wells near Gavalochori, there since the Venetians ruled in Crete 600 or so years ago.  what's fascinating to me is that there is no mortar or anything like that holding the rocks in place... they are fitted together and have stayed that way all this time.  this is where everyone in the area came for water... for their homes, clothes washing, their animals, etc.

then we went up into the hills and back-country to see a cheese-making operation, family-run (for i don't know how many generations) by 2 brothers and their sons.  they have 400 sheep and goats and milk them 2X a day for their cheese making.  this is a totally non-mechanized enterprise, which goes on from october to june, with the the men taking the animals higher up into the mountains during the summer months for grazing.

the milk is put into the huge copper pot and stirred by hand for 3 hours until it thickens.  it is heated by wood fire and kept at a steady ideal temperature. George from Vamos Traditional Village arranged this adventure and is explaining the operation.

at the right point of thickening, the cheese is removed from the pot with a big piece of cheese-cloth (that must be where that fabric got its name!)

it is carried over to a slanted metal table and put into a metal ring, them compressed, the liquid whey runs out, trickles down the table and is collected in a bucket and put back into the copper pot.  after the cheese has been pressed by hand, a wooden piece is put over it and weighted to  continue the pressing.  meanwhile, the stirring continues....

the cheese is aged in a cold under-ground room and i don't remember exactly, but i think they said it was aged for a year.

our visit included cheese tasting, raki and the opportunity to purchase cheese to take home.  very reasonable price.. 10 euro/ kilo of cheese, which translates to about $14 for 2.2 pounds.  and the cheese was delicious!!  it was wonderful enough that i totally ignored the lack of hygienic practices that we see here... no one wore gloves during any part of the process, no aprons, flies in abundance all around the place, the cheese cloth was merely rinsed out and hung on the clothes line in the sun ... and i really enjoyed that cheese!!

this next stop was at a taverna, also up in the hills in Tsitsifas.  we'd been there several times in the past for the raki-making and it's a lovely place!  anyway, there was a demonstration of bread-making in the traditional way and anyone who wanted to took a turn at the kneading then making the dough into loaves and Manoli took them to the wood fire oven.  he raked the hot coals out (the fire had been going for hours), then put 10 big round pans of bread dough in, closed it and left the bread to bake for an hour.  he said the temp. in the oven was about 400F when the dough went in and it would maintain the heat long enough for baking the bread.  while the baking was going on, we had lunch and i failed to take photos of that wonderful meal with wine and raki.  guess i was just too busy eating and drinking!

during this time i kept hearing a lamb baa-ing... a familiar sound from the past.  then this little 2-week old bummer lamb was brought out for a feeding and i got a turn at holding the sweet little critter... sigh.. blast from the past!

it was really a great day and i'd highly recommend it!!

and so... this concludes the adventures on fantasy island, spring 2012... unless something else comes to mind, at which time i may or may not add another chapter.

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