Thessaly is Greece’s largest plain, stretching between the snowy mountains of Pelion to the east and Mount Olympus to its west; with wheat, corn and cotton the main agriculture products. In this area one can find all the geographical elements of Greece in one place – sea and mountains, plains and rivers.
The region is also full of myths and legends from ancient Greece and rich in Greek ancient history. Its most important hero was Achilles – straight from Homer’s The Iliad. He was a prince of Pelion and was said to have been a demigod.
Before the Greek dark ages, Thessaly was known as Aeolia -Αἰολία..
I have talked in previous articles on Epirus and Roumeli of the nomadic nature of its people and how this has been a catalyst in the evolution of its culinary culture, giving rise to the pita that was – like today’s sandwich – easily transportable.
On the east of Thessaly you will find Volos, the birthplace of the Greek tsipouradiko, unique to Greece and to the world.
The food in Thessaly has much in common with Epirus. The west of Thessaly is traditionally poorer than the east. This is not so much the case today, but the past has always influenced the present, especially in the eating habits of its people.
In the western part, corn was the main staple whereas in the east it was wheat. Butter and lard were the traditional fats used in the west and olive oil in the east.
It can easily be said that Thessaly has two types of cuisines, the Mediterranean in the east and the mountainous one, where meat predominates. The meat culture can be seen and smelled if one takes a stroll down Larisa streets, permeated with taverns.
To the east there is the Pelion olive groves, seafood and naturally the Volos tsipouradika that should be a must to anyone visiting Greece who is interested in its food culture.
Thessaly also has a strong dairy culture, with its wonderful collection of cheeses. Larisa and Trikala are the biggest dairy producers in Greece, mainly of yellow cheese such as kasseri, kefalograviera and graviera.
The tradition has it that in Trikala, on New Year’s Eve, the women would go to the nearest source of water of the village and offer butter, cheese, lard, milk and wheat to God so the following year would be as fertile.
Made all over Greece, in Thessaly trahana was and is a strong integral part of the diet. It is always made in August, the hottest month of the year, so it dries as quickly as possible. Two types are always made, the sweet and the sour, which are used for different recipes.
This part of Greece is also known for its sausages, usually spicy and a speciality of Pelion. They are thin and made from sheep’s meat and flavoured with cumin, paprika and black pepper. Today sausages are mass-produced in factories and are made from a combination of beef and sheep meat.
Always in Greece, no matter where, there are plenty of vegetables on offer and Thessaly is no exception, rounding up the diet and making it balanced.