Naxos is a treasure trove of traditional products and delicacies, thanks to its unique geography and climate. The island is renowned for its outstanding local produce, which is abundant and diverse.
When it comes to traditional local products in Naxos, cheese is a standout. Naxos offers a wide variety of cheeses made from different types of milk, such as cow, goat, sheep, or a combination of these. One of the most famous cheeses on the island is Naxos Gruyere, which has earned a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label. Gruyere is a beloved cheese among enthusiasts due to its unique characteristics and relative scarcity. It boasts a firm, elastic texture with occasional holes and a yellowish hue. Its delicate, milky aroma and mild, somewhat sweet taste become more pronounced with age. Naxos Gruyere is made from cow’s milk, but up to 20% goat and sheep milk from animals raised on the island can also be added.
The locals of Naxos also love a cheese called Arseniko, which translates to “masculine.” It gets its name from the strong taste and the fact that it is made from the hardest part of the cheese curds. Arseniko is a hard, yellow cheese with a persistent and relatively salty taste. Its history has been lost over time, but it is traditionally made in small, stone-built shepherd buildings in the mountains using unpasteurized goat and sheep milk. This cheese has excellent aging potential and requires regular smearing with olive oil and salt, resulting in a black appearance on its skin. After six months of aging, it releases its aroma and can be enjoyed on its own or served alongside wine, salads, or pasta. In modern versions, the salting is milder, and the cheese may come covered in a black “film.”
A unique cheese that is derived from the production of Arseniko cheese is Kommos. This cheese is a testament to the resourcefulness of traditional cheesemakers who utilized every last bit of the curd. The leftover curd from the initial cheese-making process is boiled and processed a second time, resulting in a mild-flavored, white, semi-hard cheese with a low fat content and cohesive texture. Kommos cheese can be enjoyed on its own or used as a spread. Traditionally, it was shaped into a ball, but modern versions are often cylindrical and may be flavored with herbs or spices.
Naxos is also known for its summer cheese called Xynomyzithra, a perfect substitute for feta cheese in the traditional Greek salad. This soft, slightly sour cheese is made from goat’s milk and is produced within 24 hours of milking. The fermentation process occurs naturally at room temperature, and the cheese is then drained in special textile bags in specific cheese-making containers. Due to its fresh nature, Xynomyzithra must be consumed within a few days and cannot be stored outside of the fridge. If left for a few weeks in the containers to mature, it is transformed into another cheese called Xynotyro.
Myzithra is a soft cheese made from a mixture of cow’s milk and goat’s milk. It has a mild, sweet flavour and is often used in desserts and pastries. It is also a great option for those following a diet. Myzithra is typically available during the spring months.
Another cheese to try is Naxos Anthotyro, which is essentially Myzithra that has been aged and dried for a longer period of time. It has a stronger flavour and lower fat content.
Aside from these well-known cheeses that can be found in shops and restaurants, there are also a variety of artisanal cheeses produced in smaller quantities. These cheeses offer unique flavors and textures as cheesemakers experiment with different techniques and ingredients.
A particularly noteworthy charcuterie product from Naxos is Zamboni, a type of cured pork leg that resembles Italian prosciutto. However, its flavour is considerably saltier and spicier. To prepare Zamboni, the leg is first coated in a mixture of salt and spices such as pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. It is then covered with a thick layer of salt and placed in a wooden box to cure for a period of three to six months.
Potatoes are a renowned local product in Naxos that is a must-try for every visitor. The island’s underground water table, climate, sandy soil, and the presence of cattle have contributed to the growth of potato production. Interestingly, potato farming and cattle production are linked as the areas where cows grazed were observed to have better potato growth due to the manure that made the soil more fertile. Consequently, potato production became linked to cattle production and cheese making. The potatoes are cooked in various ways and are a delicious addition to any meal.
Local production in Naxos would be incomplete without the Mediterranean’s quintessential food product – olive oil. Olives have numerous well-documented positive effects on human health, making them an important dietary component in Mediterranean cultures since ancient times. The valley of Tragaia is where the main olive groves are located, yielding a relatively small yet high-quality production that is sufficient to meet the island’s demand, even during peak periods. Bottled extra virgin olive oil is available in many shops with traditional local products. For visitors who want to have a closer look at the production of olive oil in the past, there are two olive press museums in Eggares and Damalas.
The island boasts a diverse range of flora, including a variety of aromatic and medicinal plants such as oregano, thyme, laurel, eucalyptus, mint, nettle, mallow, calendula, chamomile, lavender, verbena, wicker, and rosemary. These herbs are available in dried form, either in bulk or pre-packaged. Visitors can also find herbal blends and essential oils, which are believed to promote wellness.
The abundance of botanical diversity has made Naxos a haven for bees. The island’s varied terrain, encompassing mountains, valleys, and plains, offers a wide array of flora for bees to forage on, resulting in a diverse range of honey flavours. The most prevalent type of honey produced on the island is thyme honey, which is renowned for its distinct aroma and therapeutic properties. Other popular types of honey made on the island include pine, heather, and wildflower honey.
In Naxos, like many places in Greece, you can indulge in traditional fruit jams, sweet fruit preserves and handmade cookies. Due to the abundance of fruit trees on the island, you can find jams and sweet preserves made from Kitron, cherry and quince in many shops located in Chora or the villages.
Kitron liqueur is a unique drink made from the distilled leaves of the Kitron tree, a citrus fruit larger than a lemon. This fruit is abundant in Naxos due to the island’s fertile soil and warm climate. The distilled leaves contain aromatic essential oils that give the liqueur its distinctive taste. There are three types of Kitron liqueur available: Green, the driest and strongest at 36 degrees; White, the preferred choice among Naxian locals, with an intermediate level of alcohol and sugar at 33 degrees; and Yellow, which is the sweetest and least alcoholic at 30 degrees. It is best served cold as an aperitif or digestive and can be mixed with other juices or spirits to make delightful cocktails. Vallindras distillery, located in the village of Chalki, has been producing Kitron liqueur for five generations using traditional methods. The distillery, which is housed in a stunning building with unique architecture, is open to visitors during the summer months.
Naxos boasts a lengthy and prosperous legacy in winemaking, tracing back to ancient times and linking the island with the god of wine, Dionysus. The fertile soil and favourable climate of the island provide ideal conditions for grape cultivation and wine production. The vineyards span across the island, nestled in lush valleys, steep slopes and near the villages. While there are numerous small-scale productions for local consumption, four companies offer bottled wine.
Raki, a popular alcoholic beverage, is created through the distillation of grape pomace, the leftover material from the production of wine. Its name originates from the Ancient Greek term “rax,” which signifies grape. Traditionally served in small glasses, Raki is often enjoyed as a digestive drink. Ideally it is paired with meze appetisers to enhance the overall dining and drinking experience.
Art – Handicrafts
In addition to the culinary delights, Naxos is renowned for its exquisite handicrafts such as woven textiles, ceramics and marble artworks, which can make for excellent souvenirs. To discover and support these local products while immersing yourself in the island’s vibrant culture, we recommend exploring the various local shops, workshops, and women’s associations.
In the village of Damalas, visitors have the opportunity to visit a traditional ceramics workshop run by fourth-generation potters. Here, they can witness the entire process of clay processing, from start to finish. The workshop produces traditional Naxos ceramics, including the ancient wine jug known as the “sfouni”, the “Pythagoras mug” – a cup that allows everyone at the table to drink an equal amount of wine – and decorative ceramics, some of which are replicas of museum exhibits. In addition to the traditional workshop, there are also many modern artists who have established their own workshops and sell their unique and contemporary ceramic creations.
Naxos is famous for its high-quality marble, known as “Crystallina”, which is prized for its exceptional whiteness and ability to reflect and transmit light. This unique variety of marble has been used for centuries to create stunning works of art and architecture. Today, modern artists and locals alike continue to use Naxian marble to create one-of-a-kind pieces, including contemporary designs, intricate jewellery, and accurate replicas of ancient Cycladic figurines. Thanks to its exceptional quality and skilled craftsmanship, Naxian marble has become an important symbol of the island’s rich history and culture, inspiring artists and designers from around the world.
The art of weaving has been passed down through generations on Naxos, preserving the island’s rich textile tradition. Handmade textiles are highly valued for their exceptional beauty and require a rare level of craftsmanship. Skilled weavers use traditional looms to produce impressive creations, ranging from tablecloths, curtains, and rugs to decorations and even clothing items. Visitors to Naxos can find wonderful examples of weaving in the village of Halki, where craftswomen sell their pieces in local shops. The Women’s Textile Cooperative workshops in Moni and Apiranthos also offer a great opportunity to see skilled weavers at work and purchase their unique creations. Whether you are looking for a beautiful and functional home decoration or a unique piece of clothing, the handmade textiles of Naxos are a testament to the island’s rich cultural heritage and artistic legacy.