Mussels of Pieria: The unknown culinary treasure of Greece

Mussels of Pieria

In Makrygialos Pieria, in the shadow of the imposing Mount Olympus, in a place with a long history from ancient times to modern times, the residents cultivate with passion and deep expertise a piece of "treasure" of the culinary history of their place.

Starting from the Salts of Kitrou and the mud baths and a breath away from Ancient Pydna, we took a trip to learn the world of mussels and their great place in regional Macedonian and Greek cuisine.

Pieria mussel cultures: From experience to deep expertise

The systematic cultivation of mussels began in 1987, and today, their production in the marine park of Makrygialos Pieria is the fourth largest in Europe and, in fact, covers 60% of Greek exports of the sector and 25% of domestic production.

Of course, this is no accident: the mussels that abound in the area, due to the rich plankton and the right temperature of its brackish waters, have always been part of the life and daily diet of the locals, who knew very well as children how to they put the mussels "from the sea straight to their plate".

"I remember when I was little, we took them out of the rock and roasted them in the fire in a sheet metal that we set up on two big stones. In fact, even small ones, we sold them raw to make our pocket money", Savvas Roussos, member of the Board of Directors of the Agricultural Cooperative of Mussel Growers of Makrygialos, Pieria, tells Olive Magazine.

As of 2020, the first Organized Aquaculture Development Area (OAD) in Greece for mussels was established in the sea area of ​​Pieria, and today, the 67 mussel farming units it has produce approximately 10,500 tons of mussels per year, employing 250 people in their workforce.

Mussels of Pieria

Mussels of Pieria

8

Each production unit is like a small floating factory in the sea, and each producer has their own "plot" of cultivation. The mussel is born by itself in the brackish waters of the Thermaikos Gulf and grows biologically, i.e. without additional food, filtering the necessary ingredients it needs from the water.

"Mussels feed on MILK, as we say here in the region," Savvas tells us. "In other words, they need the freshwater of the four rivers, Gallikos, Axios, Loudias and Aliakmons (their initials form the word GALA/MILK), that flow into the sea and create the ideal environment for the development of mussels."

The mussel fry sticks to the spawners after being born in the low winter temperatures (from December to February). These are special long ropes 2 metres long that hang vertically in the sea and are held on the surface by empty barrels, the so-called "floats".

In the next stage, the cultivators collect the fry, transfer it to a special cylindrical net that houses them and re-enter the sea to grow. Mussels need about 10-14 months to reach marketable size (about 6 cm); therefore, as they grow, they need to be accommodated in larger nets each time.

Thus, the process is repeated 3-4 times until the harvest months (April-August).

Mussel farmers work hard in adverse weather conditions in the sea in a process that requires discipline and professionalism.

Mussels in international gastronomy and the eating habits of the Greeks

According to the president of the Cooperative, Tasso Dragani, 95% of the production is exported to Italy, France and Spain, and only 5% is consumed in Greece.

"The Greek is unfamiliar with the mussel; it is not part of his eating habits. That is why our next goal is not only to standardise the product and to establish our brand name in the international market but also for Greeks to get to know the mussel by putting it in their daily diet".

As the exporting countries show, mussels play an important role in the gastronomy of Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Croatia, countries where they are a specialty. Some examples are the well-known international cuisine delicious French recipe for steamed Mussels Marinier or that for steamed mussels with fried potatoes, extinguished in wine, the so-called Moules frites from Belgium.

But for most of us, nutritious mussels are a foreign material in our kitchen and mussels saganaki or mussel pilaf, well-known dishes, rarely have a place at lunchtime at the family table.

Mussels in our culinary tradition

Were mussels absent from the family table throughout Greece?

"My mother made every recipe you can imagine: steamed mussels, chargrilled mussels, mussel pilaf, saganaki mussels and mussel pie. And all this is daily, not only on holidays and weekends, as with meat. We had mussels all around us, in abundance," Savvas says, and as he sees the excitement on my face upon hearing the word "mussel pie", he adds: "We loved the mussel pie. A few ingredients. With phyllo, cheese, onion and dill. All the deliciousness is hidden in the dill, you know. It goes very well with the mussel.”

9

The Macedonian cuisine of Pieria is an amalgamation of Greek, Pontic and Asia Minor, with roots deep in time that bear witness to the place's long history. For the locals, the local culinary tradition is an experience, a familiar and integral part of their everyday life. After all, you only learn something well if you experience it. Savvas knows this very well since, in the summers, he gathers tourists in his boat to show them the area and cook them steamed mussels with lemon.

So let's see the mussel pilaf and the saganaki mussels as an opportunity to get to know an unknown but living part of our culinary history, keeping the memories of our place alive.

mussels

mussels

From the sea to the plate

We thank Mr. Tasos Dragani, President of the Agricultural Cooperative of Mussel Growers of Makrygialos Pieria and Mr. Savvas Roussos, member of the Board of Directors of the Cooperative, for their valuable information.

We thank the Chamber of Pieria in the context of the European project "Actions to Promote, Display and Increase the Recognizability of the Fresh Pieria Mussel in the markets of Greece, Italy, Belgium and France" of the Operational Program "Fisheries & Sea 2014-2020".

EVI TSIROPOULOU is a columnist for Olive Magazine

READ MORE: Greek saffron considered the best in the world.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024