We learnt a lot during our recent visit to an organic farm near the village of Harasio, 500 metres above sea level in Crete, at the Peskesi Organic Farm, where ecological, seasonal, biodynamic and organic farming is practised according to traditional methods.
The idea is to revive, preserve and promote the material wealth of the Cretan diet, but above all to produce healthy products with real nutritional value that do not pollute the environment and really nourish our bodies. Now I know why the people of Crete live long and healthy lives. The Peskesi farm also supplies all the vegetables, fruit and some dairy products to the restaurant at the Pnoé Hotel.
We had a chat with Aggelos Bougias, the manager of the farm, who has been working with the founder, Panagiotis Magganas, since the very first steps in 2014.
IRMA: How do you make your cheese?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: Our homemade cheese at Peskesi Organic Farm is called ‘Tirozouli’ and it is made from fresh goat’s milk and the process is to first boil the milk to pasteurise it until it reaches a temperature of 90 degrees Celsius and then add white wine vinegar to coagulate the milk. Half a teaspoon of sea salt and 0.30ml of white wine vinegar are needed for each litre of milk.
IRMA: Why do you feed the animals grass?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: There are a number of reasons why we feed wheat to our animals on the farm. Firstly, it is a practice that we have inherited from ancient agricultural methods, where seeds are sown on the land to feed the animals. We use this method in combination with more modern farming methods called vertical farming, where the seeds are sown on racks, and this process does not require a lot of land. By growing the germ from the wheat seed, the product is multiplied so less seed is needed and we have a much more nutritious result.
IRMA: What makes your olive oil different from the usual Greek oils?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: Our olive oil from the organic farm Peskesi is extra virgin olive oil and the harvest starts in mid to late September, depending on the weather. The difference between a premium olive oil and a regular olive oil is that a premium oil has less product, but it has 5 to 10 times more polyphenols compared to a regular olive oil. We don’t have defects in the taste of our oil, we have fruity aromas with bitter and spicy tastes in combination with food, giving a gastronomic result.
IRMA: I thought cooking and heating olive oil was bad for your health?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is very good. Our body can absorb much more nutrients from food, such as essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics, etc.
IRMA: Can you give us a tip on how everyone can compost their waste, even if they live in an apartment with a balcony?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: Composting also comes from the practices of the past, when nothing was wasted from the household kitchen. Based on the economic lifestyle, waste was separated and reused. There were always different bowls on the windowsill, one for chickens, one for cats and dogs and another for compost. Nowadays there are compost bins that everyone can have in their homes or on their balconies. This way we can feed the soil with compost to keep it healthy and have delicious, nutritious produce.
IRMA: What herbs do you find in every Greek kitchen?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: In general, you can easily find mint, basil, parsley, sage and chamomile growing in most Greek homes. Especially in Crete, because life can be up in the mountains, far away from doctors or any medical assistance, so the locals were aware of the herbs used for medicinal purposes, such as Dictamos (Origanum dictamnus), an endemic Cretan herb that is also known from the works of Hippocrates.
IRMA: Why do you prefer slow cooking?
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: It is the way my grandmother used to cook and she always said that cooking slowly makes the food more delicious. We use traditional cooking utensils like saucepans, clay pots and clay casseroles. Clay has a certain ability to retain all the flavours and aromas of all the ingredients, so when we have fresh ingredients, which are always used in Cretan dishes, we don’t want to spoil them by cooking on a high heat.
IRMA: Tell me five essential elements of the Cretan diet that prolong a healthy and long life.
AGGELOS BOUGIAS: There is a scientific study carried out by Ancel Keys at the University of Minnesota in 1950 on thousands of people from Crete. There were minimal deaths from heart failure and cancer and most of the participants lived to be over 100 years old. This Cretan diet has been called ‘the mother of all Mediterranean diets’ because for hundreds of years the Cretans ate only what the land had to offer:
-Seasonal vegetables and edible wild greens
-Dried fruits and nuts and honey
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Not much meat
-Working outdoors, leading to a less stressful lifestyle (and of course a shot of raki every morning 😃)