Monday, 6 August 2012

Agricultural August 2012 (Αγροτικός Αύγουστος)

Agricultural August is annual event taking place in Hania, which celebrates the area's agricultural focus. Its main focus is for producers to come into contact with consumers, and inform them of their activities by promoting and showcasing their products.

Production in Hania is centred on agriculture. The main difference between the production of the past with the present-day production lies in the use of technological advances. Production is no longer left to chance these days, nor does it rely on old-fashioned techniques. Everything has become technologically upgraded at all levels.

Dairy products, mainly in the form of traditonal cheese varieties have always played a major role in local production. Notice in the photo that there is a heavy emphasis on packaging these days, according to health regulations (vacuum packaging). In the past, most products were sold unpackaged, sold 'loose', in any quantity the consumer wanted to buy.

The making of Cretan rusks (dry bread products) has now taken the Greek market by storm - Cretan paximathi (as rusks are known in Greece) is now popular all over Greece, and is also recognised for its beneficial health status. It is one of the most ancient Cretan food products.

Wherever we went, there were sample products to try. My children must have tasted over ten different varieites of graviera cheese. All cheese produced on a small scale tby micro-dairy farmers tastes different, according to the producer, the milk used, which depends on what the animals are given to eat, if they are fed only on forage feed, and where they were fed. 

Crete has a number of rural women's cooperatives, which make use of the local products of an area to produce various sweets and savouries. Some of these cooperatives work on a large scale, making the most efficient use of local skills and local products. These products were made by the women of Karanou village.  

 Due to the demand for new products in order to gain a better market share, carob is now being used in various ways in Crete. Primarily used as animal feed (pigs and donkeys), it gained some notoriety when it was used ground and used to replace wheat flour when during WW2 when the Nazis confiscated the Cretan villagers' food supplies. Carob rusks are now being made in Hania.

Olive oil soap does not need to be the boring green odorless bar it used to be. 

Loukoumades (traditional Greek donuts) with Merenda?! Yes, indeed, especially when eaten under a Cretan summertime sunset!

But the actual products remain the same: the essence is: "if you're doing something right, don't change it." Cheese, honey, wine, olive oil, soap, rusks - the same age-old Cretan products continue to be produced, using more modern techniques that comply with health and safety regulations, also allowing for greater and more controlled quantities to be produced. 

I recently came across this video - it has to be one of the best most up-to-date videos on the Cretan diet. The food products that are showcased in this video were all represented in the Agricultural August fair (perhaps not the meat products). 

Agricultural August was, for many years, held by the old Venetian harbour, but this year, it has been given a new venue. The area of the old city wall on the west side of the old town of Hania (Δυτική Τάφρος - the Western Moat, as the area formerly enclosed within the fortress is known) was recently upgraded to give it the status its protection merited, as it is historically very important; the city walls are over four hundred years old and had not been renovated for many years. This area is located only a few metres away from the old harbour - the landmark lighthouse is visible from the entrance to the exhibition area, . At the same time, the road that runs alongside the wall from the city centre directly towards the sea has also been unpgraded, giving the area a new lease of life. It's now a great place to promenade, and it also has a cycle track.

As you walk down this road, you can see the development of housing in Hania. The remaining old houses here were some of the first modern houses to be built outside the city walls. They were mainly torn down to make way for modern two-story dwellings, which are now being replaced by apartment blocks. History in layers, all in the space of less than one square kilometre.

Agricultural August 2012 is running until the 8th of August. If you are in Hania, you won't want to miss this event - there are free tasting sessions, and you can ask the producers about the production process.

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