Thursday, 14 May 2009
Ouzo drinking is an art. Or maybe it's a way of life. Whatever it is, the island of Lesvos is known for its ouzo. Most cafe owners in Greece will admit that the best ouzo comes from Lesvos, also known as Mytilini, and they probably carry one of the more popular commercial brands like Mini or Plomari. But it's not the ouzo, it's who you drink it with that really makes the experience.
The history of ouzo is somewhat murky, but some claim it may date back in one form or another to ancient times. Its precursor is tsipouro (known by some Easterners as raki), a drink distilled throughout the Byzantine Empire and continued throughout Ottoman times. Traditionally, Tsipouro is said to have been the pet project of a group of 14th century monks living in a monastery on holy Mount Athos. One version of it is flavored with Anise. It is this version that eventually came to be called Ouzo.
Modern ouzo distillation largely took off in the 19th century following Greek independence, with much production centered on the island of Lesbos, which claims to be the originator of the drink and remains a major producer. When absinthe fell into disfavour in the early 20th century ouzo is one of the products whose popularity may have gained (it was once called "a substitute for absinthe without the wormwood".) In 1932, ouzo producers developed the method of distillation using copper stills, which is now considered the canonically proper method of production. One of the largest producers of ouzo today is Varvayanis (Βαρβαγιάννης), located in the town of Plomari in the southeast portion of the island, while in the same town pistillate (Πιτσιλαδή), a variety of high quality ouzo, is also distilled.
Commonly, but not at all traditional in the western world, ouzo is served with cola either in premixed cans or bottles or simply mixed to the desired taste. However Ouzo is traditionally mixed with water, until it takes on a murky, white demeanor, and served with ice in a small glass. Ouzo can also be drunk, straight, from a shot glass. Mixing ouzo with cola destroys the liquorice-like taste of Ouzo. On October 25, 2006, Greece won the right to label ouzo as an exclusively Greek product. The European Union now recognizes ouzo, as well as the Greek drinks tsipouro and tsikoudia, as products with a protected designation of origin, which prohibits makers outside Greece from using the name.
The origin of the name "ouzo" is disputed. A popular derivation is from the Italian "uso Massalia" - for use in Marseille - stamped on selected silkworm cocoons exported from Tyrnavos in the 19th century. A more likely explanation however is that the word "ouzo" derives from the word "üzüm", which means grapes in Turkish.
In modern Greece, ouzeries (the suffix -erie is imported from French) can be found in nearly all cities, towns, and villages. These cafe-like establishments serve ouzo with mezedes — appetizers such as octopus, salad, sardines, calamari, fried zucchini, and clams, among others. It is traditionally slowly sipped (usually mixed with water or ice) together with mezedes shared with others over a period of several hours in the early evening.
In other countries it is tradition to have ouzo in authentic Greek restaurants as an aperitif, served in a shot glass and deeply chilled before the meal is started. No water or ice is added but the drink is served very cold, enough to make some crystals form in the drink as it is served.
Do you want to drink the real Greek ouzo? Go to www.medestino.com and book your holiday in Greece.