Why are Aegina pistachios different from others around the world?
The Aegina pistachio has been a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product since 1994 to protect it from unfair competition. This is indeed a unique product, with a rare combination of factors that contribute to the specific characteristics that have made it famous. In the first place, it grows here in the arid environment of the island, near the sea. The pistachio does well on the relatively infertile, lime-rich soil, with semi-irrigated cultivation, minimal use of fertilizers and low humidity, while its limited production results in a truly noble product, rich in stores of nutritional substances. The drying in the sun dramatically enhances the organoleptic qualities of the nut. The pistachio has always been a popular product with visitors to the island.
Do you consider them the best in the world? Why?
Of course, pistachios are not produced only in Aegina. They are also grown in others parts of Greece, but the largest producers are in Iran, Syria, Turkey and California. There are also groundnuts and many other varieties called peanuts in English and which are derived from plants (the endocarp of the fruit of peanuts grown in the ground) and not from the pistachio trees.
The Aegina pistachio is known as the best in the world because of its excellent taste and aroma, its light green color and its oblong shape, which differs from other nuts in the world that are short and thick. They can also be used for cooking, in pastry-making and in the production of cosmetics and medicines.
A few words about the Fistiki Fest?
The festival, a joyful celebration of this special nut, is held every September, once the pistachios have been harvested, roasted and used to prepare a vast number of delicacies. The waterfront is lined with elegant pavilions serving as trade booths that feature pistachio products and handicrafts, allowing the crowds to wander around at their leisure. In addition, a number of cultural events are held all over the island and include art exhibitions, music concerts, theatrical performances, culinary evenings, culinary competitions and children’s events. The festival reaches every corner and the work of our many local artists fills not only the galleries, but cafes, grocery stores, the fish market, bars, streets and alleys. It is a very high-energy occasion for both locals and visitors.
What role does the pistachio play in Aegina’s history and heritage?
Pistachio trees came to Aegina from Syria only about 100 years ago. A Greek doctor brought them to his homeland and their cultivation immediately spread, due to the minimal requirements and good profitability of the crop. That means their history here is very short.
The harvest period for pistachios starts in about a week’s time, between mid- to late August. This is obviously an important time of year for our island. Since pistachio cultivation is mainly a family business, it has become an annual tradition that family members all pitch in and help gather the nuts as they have done for years. At the end of the day, when the pistachios have been cleaned and laid out to dry, there is usually a small party with wine, ouzo and Greek dishes for everyone who has worked that day.
Pistachios have come to be part of Aegina’s culture, and many artists are inspired and create paintings and sculptures, pottery from the local clay and jewelry.
How are pistachios part of the island’s legacy/identity?
Pistachios are inextricably connected with the Aegina brand. The protected name “Aegina Pistachio” is synonymous with good quality and great flavor. Tourists cannot leave the island without taking at least a small sample of pistachios with them. At the same time, local pistachio growers make every effort to maintain that trademark quality so as to safeguard this product that is a very important part of the island’s legacy.
How do you use pistachios?
Aegina pistachios are traditionally eaten either raw or roasted with salt and citric acid as a tasty accompaniment to an aperitif. Many local homemakers use them to concoct their own creations, such as syrup-soaked desserts or special pistachio sweet cakes, chocolates, cookies, rusks, preserves, nougat and even liqueur.
These days, many of the contemporary chefs create imaginative appetizers and entrees enriched by the aroma and flavor of this nut. Some examples are pistachio pesto, aubergine dip or green salads, or even garlic spread that can be sprinkled with finely chopped pistachios. They can also be used to accent chicken or pork. Some of the local restaurants serve specialties like sausages stuffed with pistachio, pan-fried feta cheese coated with coarsely chopped pistachio and honey, filleted sardines with pistachios or stuffed pearly razorfish, just to name a few. And it seems that the pistachio is gaining popularity as a cooking ingredient or garnish in other parts of the world as well.
Any stories about pistachios that you remember from when you were a child?
I still remember myself as a child playing hide and seek in the pistachio fields or taking a little nap under the shade of the tree’s dense leaves. I remember one time in particular playing with friends in someone else’s field where the crop was ripe and ready for harvesting. We picked a few nuts and ate them fresh off the tree, but the owner – an old guy about 80 years old – saw us and chased after us, yelling that we were little thieves and threatening to hit us with his walking stick.
You have to remember that pistachios are very important for the local economy, and many people make their living or supplement their income by growing and selling them.
*Condé Nast Traveler is the world biggest travel magazine.
CLICK HERE to read the article of Condé Nast Traveler “The Suprising Home of the World’s Best Pistachios”