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Mar 1, 2014 02:08 PM

Greece: Way More Lamb Than Beef? Corresponding Terrain?

I've never been to Greece. I have a picture of it being predominantly rocky/craggy land (even the islands) for goats and sheep; not big expanses of cattle pastureland. And along with that, i don't associate greek cooking with a lot of beef.

Would you plse educate me a bit about this? I know that, like most countries, Greece has variety in food and terrain; I'm not asking about absolutes, just 'predominantly'. Thx much!

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  1. First, go home, to Greece !

    Second, much like Italy, where pork is king. Pork feeds the world. and the "meat" is mostly pork. The livestock are mostly pigs.
    Goats and sheep are pastured in the plush green Greek mountains and feed on wild herbs giving the meat a natural flavor not found in factory farms.

    Beef is the American dream.

    Beef is found in areas of Greece where there is room for the lazy cattle to graze on much more feed to meat ratio.

    But, as may also be a shock to you and many others, in Greece, and in Europe in general, meat was saved for Sundays. If there was any at all. It was not a daily breakfast, lunch and dinner staple.

    There are recipes that were developed for beef in areas where there is beef. As there are lamb recipes that don't do as well with beef. Likewise with goat.

    My family comes from Greece in areas that have wine, lamb, goat, honey, etc.

    My MiL comes from an area that has none of the above except sheep for milk and cheese. No wine, no honey, no other meat except pork around Christmas.

    And I wonder how any traditional Greek recipe can be made without deglazing with wine. She shows me exactly how bland it can be without that essential Greek ingredient and ancient Greek cooking technique.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Gastronomos

      And then, during fast periods, like the 7-week Great Lent that begins this week, the Greek diet would be free of all flesh (seafood, too), dairy, eggs, oil, wine (with some allowances on festal days during the period).

      1. re: Karl S

        Shoot it seems like 1/2 of the Orthodox calendar is a fast day. There is every Wednesday and Friday, Great Lent, the Nativity fast, Apostles fast, Dormition ect.

        1. re: rasputina

          Exactly. It's a vital context in which to understand Greek cooking traditions.

        2. re: Karl S

          SEVEN weeks??? Yikers! But that's over there. right? American Greek Orthodox don't usually follow that so strictly? I had no idea there was a fast that went that long...

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Greek Easter is usually on a different day than Roman Catholic, here and there, although this year it's the same day. For me, it's only a 40 day fast, starting this week. It always seemed to me they had a longer Lent; but if Lent starts this week that's only a 5 week period. It always confused me, to tell the truth. I'd love to get to the bottom of it.

              What made me laugh is the "allowance on festal days during the period"; I thought I was the only one but I always said St Patricks Day doesn't count, only to find a lot of my friends have the same personal rule! So now I can celebrate with a clear conscience, thanks.

              1. re: coll

                not to get too into it here, but Great Lent began today for the Orthodox Christians, "Clean Monday", after three weeks of preparations. It's 40 days till Palm Sunday, then Holy Week, then Pascha.
                As for food, no meat, dairy, or fish. Shellfish permitted. No oil. Olive oil or other oil. There are some days where oil is permitted.
                And since St. Patrick "Apostle of Ireland", the primary patron saint of the island brought Christianity to the island before the schism, we view him as Orthodox.

                "...Greek and Latin, the 2nd-century Christian celebration was called Pascha Πάσχα , derived, through Aramaic, from the Hebrew term Pesach (פֶּסַח), known in English as Passover,.."

                1. re: Gastronomos

                  No wonder I'm confused, thanks! And interesting about St Patrick.

                2. re: coll

                  "allowance on festal days during the period" during a period like Great Lent would mean eating fish, not corned beef. In other words, a partial relaxation of the fasting rules, not a total one.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Actually I was talking about abstaining from alcohol, that's what I usually "give up" for Lent. The only other concession is fish on Friday.

                    1. re: coll

                      there isn't yet a "pick and choose" "give up something of your choice for Lent" in Orthodox Christianity. It's an absolute. Not that everyone follows. I myself am guilty of not holding to strict fast during Lent.
                      But there are calendars available to follow for those that aren't familiar. Some days allow fish. Some days allow oil. Some days allow alcohol - Wine.

                      There are regions of Greece that are covered in orange groves. Traditionally finding olive oil in those areas is difficult and expensive. The northern regions of Greece use animal fats. As do some of the mountain regions of Cyprus.

                      1. re: Gastronomos

                        As far as I know, in my church it's no meat on Friday, and only during Lent now and a couple of other days throughout the year like Christmas Eve. And on Lent you give up one thing that is very important to you, I'm allowed to pick and choose. After 8 years of Catholic school, that's what I took away from it anyway. Maybe I should refresh my memory? It's been awhile...

                        1. re: coll

                          If you are referring to the Latin rite Catholic Church, Friday abstinence is still the rule year round but you may substitute another penance on Fridays outside of Lent but during Lent no meat on Friday is the rule.

                        2. re: Gastronomos

                          Regarding fish during Great Lent, I was thinking of Feast of the An­nunciation and Palm Sunday

                          1. re: paulj

                            Palm Sunday is a Feast Day. We feast on fish. Preferably fin fish. Mackerel is in season in the spring and very popular grilled.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I always forget to remove the Lent from my bellybutton.

                      2. re: coll

                        Well, for Roman Catholics, St Patrick's Day would be a day free from Lenten abstinence (fast rules now only apply to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) if St Patrick is the patron of the nation, diocese, city or parish, or if the bishop expressly grants a dispensation.

                        Roman Catholic Lenten rules are a teeny shadow of what they once were, but I don't want to digress too far from the topic on that point. The Greek rules, btw, are not just for the Greeks but (with variations) for all the non-Western Christians. (When you get to the Copts in Africa, those are some *serious* ascetical regimes, with days of fast and/or abstinence covering about half of every year - and this had an effect on the development of cuisine, much as Ramadan did in Islamic cultures).

                  2. re: Gastronomos

                    Goats and sheep aren't generally raised on factory farms even in the US.

                    1. re: rasputina

                      there's a very interesting film documentary called Sweet Grass about sheep ranchers in Montana.

                      1. re: rasputina

                        A friend of mine in California runs a goat farm and their prime product is goat cheese. It's called Jollity Farm and his cheeses are quite interesting.

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          I used to raise dairy goats myself. And the occasional sheep. A friend ran sheep full time.

                        2. re: rasputina

                          I estimate from
                          that the average size of flock per 'property' in Australia is about 2000 head.

                          Table 1
                          For several decades, 55% of the total US sheep population has been in farms with 1000+ head.  Texas, Calif, Wyoming are the top producing states.


                      2. Sheep & goats require much less pasturage than beef. Greece is mostly rocky & mountainous as you have imagined & hence not much pasturage for beef. Sheep & goats are much more efficient users of pasturage as well so that helps. When I lived in Greece most of the beef I saw in the shop came from Australia. Beef is readily available, it's just not raised there.

                        1. When I went there I assumed I'd find mostly lamb with maybe some goat. I was shocked to find most of the Tavernas (where we mostly ate during the months we were there) had predominantly pork, some lamb, and no goat at all. There was some beef but as noted above, not much.

                          But boy, do they know how to do Pig!

                          Lamb was mostly braised and well-done. If you go looking for kabobs and Gyros and all that Pita and hummus stuff, that's mostly Middle Eastern and they do it for the American tourists, but it isn't really Greek.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: acgold7

                            you all are the best. just the kind of info I was seeking!
                            here in the NE of the US, Greek restnts don't do much w/ pork; they are associated w/ lamb mostly. (She said, just having fiished a lamb kabob pita wrap from The Greek Corner (Cambridge MA)! Th You!

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              I'm an hour or so away from Astoria. Greeks are doing pork. Lamb is on the menu, so is seafood.

                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                When I go to a sit down Greek restaurant here in NY I usually think seafood. How is it in Greece? I always thought it was sort of traditional.

                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                    Oh only places that specialize in seafood. For take out I usually get moussaka while hubby loves a good gyro or two ;-)

                                  2. re: coll

                                    I'm more familiar with Greek Cypriot food than Greek Greek but, in my experience, meat is very much to the fore on restaurant menus. Whilst there is seafood, it's not something places seem to major on. Surprising really, when you think it's a relatively small island.

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      it's a large island. and as to why the seafood is not in the fore, I'm afraid that conversation has little to do with food and more about politics and not for this website

                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                        Interesting that politics can effect a nation's food tastes.
                                        But, as you say, effect it, it must have.

                                        When I visit, as I do regularly, it always surprises how much in the background local seafood is, in comparision with other Mediterranean island I know. And it always strikes me as odd when restaurants make a big thing on their menu that a fish has been imported, frozen, from elsewhere in Europe.

                                        Still, with the excellent lamb and, particularly, pork on the island, no-one's going away from a meal hungry.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          it's by law that in Cyprus and Greece they state that the fish is frozen and from where it came.

                                          where in Cyprus do you visit?

                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                            We generally stay somewhere in the west - around the Paphos/ Latsi area.

                                      2. re: Harters

                                        Yeah, the couple of places I go swear it's a big deal where they come from, maybe it's just certain small areas. Our friend did go out with a girl from Greece for awhile and when she came over here to visit him she always made fish for us, so what do I know? Always wanted to go, maybe it's time!

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Made my first trip to Greece and Cyprus 50 years ago. I also expected to find much more fish and seafood on the menus.
                                          As it was explained to me:
                                          Ancient country and civilization, these waters have been long overfished, little fresh fish left for commercial use.

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            that was 50 years ago and that was the stock answer from a country who was under the thumb of the great powers, trying to recoup from yet another brutal invasion that left many widows who don't fish and no meat as the invaders took all livestock to feed their soldiers.
                                            ...and today every corner place on the coast of the mainland and every island has fresh fish on the menu or specializes in it.

                                            1. re: Gastronomos

                                              The Mediterranean is severely depleted of fish, unless it's in an area that is protected, very little is left. http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.c...

                                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                                My post said that was my FIRST trip to Greece and Cyprus. I've made many over the years. My last being in 2008 when I was still getting the same answer.

                                                the exceptions over the years have been when I was on the Adriatic coast or Corfu. There I was served plenty of fish.

                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                  I didn't want to get all wordy about that, but you're right. no fish in Greece or Cyprus. order lamb. it's the stereotype you want to believe

                                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                                    It's not about stereotype, it's an accuarte report of my experience during more than 15 trips to Greece and Cyprus.
                                                    With limited availability of fish on most menus, most of my eating in Greece and Cyprus has been vegetables and cheeses.
                                                    I eat fin fish, vegetables and cheese in 'regular restaurants, but outside of 3 restaurants in Athens and 1 in Thessalonika there is no kosher meat meals to be had in Greece.

                                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                                      sorry. i am not familiar with kosher restaurants in Greece or Cyprus. and the best fish i've found was not on display, but reserved for non tourists and those that know there is a 'cap' on the price of fish. BTW, fish prices in Greece are set by the government. for whatever reasons, that's the case. so restaurants have taken to a 'secret' 'cap' cost to be even able to view the offerings.
                                                      it's like a 'cover charge'.
                                                      find a native and befriend them. then go and find a place that grills fish. pay up front and pay for the fish, which IS expensive alone.

                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                        I have even bought fish right off the boats at the dock and paid restaurants to grill it for me. But when that is not an option, such as being taken out for a business meal, there is often no fish to be had. And my hosts are natives and cost ois not an issue.

                                  3. Mostly pork, lamb & chicken.

                                    Which is why I am saddened that the local Greek place's only souvlaki (they call it kebab! WTF?) is made of beef. Pork or lamb would be more 'authentic'.

                                    Good thing their tzatziki, melitsano & fava rocks :-)

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      is the beef "kebab" ground beef or cubes?

                                      1. re: Gastronomos


                                        At least they have decent gyros (pork, also not ground) and a good roasted leg o'lamb.

                                        I should go back soon :-)

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          beef IS the American dream.

                                          layered pork gyro is what one finds in Greece and more and more around these parts (NYC and 'burbs).

                                          it's just that in the Plaka area of Athens Greece, there are two very old and famous souvlaki joints serving ground beef mixtures on a stick as souvlaki. it's what one place near me ('burbs of NYC) calls 'kabob'. those two in Plaka, Athens remind me of the two cheese steak places in Philly. rivals that make each other more famous (and rich).

                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                            How interesting! I've never had souvlakia made with anything but small chunks of pork or lamb (man, do I miss that small stand in Patras!!).

                                            I think I would be thoroughly disappointed if I ordered souvlaki and got ground meat. Malakismeni! '-D

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              I was shocked the first time I tried this in Greece.
                                              it was 1993 and in Plaka after Monastiraki and she said this is the place. two skewers of ground meat and herbs, not spiced like it's middle eastern cousins, but fresh and very tasty.

                                              everywhere else in Greece. everywhere else. it's cubes of pork on a skewer. I've not seen lamb, but it's been years since I've been back to Greece and souvlakia are now offered around NYC area. That is, real tasting souvlakia, not the old NYC style stuff....

                                            2. re: Gastronomos

                                              layered pork gyros- is that pieces of pork stacked /pressed together in a big cylinder and turned- like schwarma? I know of 1 or 2 greek places in the boston area that make that (griddling the pork after it is sliced off the cylinder and putting it in a thicker pita(no pocket) w/ tadziki sauce.) Boy would boston have a lot better food if the greeks would all serve gyros and greek specialties rather than their worthless pizza on every corner. (I'm not strong minded or anything, right?!)

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                Here in the NYC area it is common, now, finally, to find the commercial KRONOS brand and other brands of ground beef and lamb next to a house made Gyro of pork stacked up on a vertical spit. "Schwarma" as it's known in the east and those that brought it to Mexico as "tacos al pastor".
                                                But if it's a Greek place, it's pork. Not chicken. Not lamb. Not beef. Pork.
                                                I know of one place that destroys the pork gyro by slicing it off the vertical spit and griddling it to stuff in a pita. They are a small take out place serving Greek street foods, gyros etc, not owned or operated by Greeks.
                                                And, for the record, Greek pita does NOT have a pocket, save for the ones you might find on the Greek island of Cyprus, another pork capital.

                                                Good tzatziki is hard to find.

                                      2. Many countries, or parts of countries (mine included) have terrain that's more suited to rearing sheep than cattle. And, often, cattle pasture will be used for dairy animals rather than beef. Such things are reflected in national or regional cuisines.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Until relatively recently, steers were the main source of power for farms, so cattle were more valuable alive.