While Santorini is mostly known for its stunning villages of Fira and Oia, its wine and its caldera, there is more to the island than meets the eye. Santorini’s cuisine consists of simple yet delicious dishes and includes age-old recipes, including the melitini (plural melitinia). Traditionally made during Easter celebrations, food historians believe that melitinia were first created during Lent when the observance of fasting was mandatory. People had to find creative ways of using fresh cheese so that it wouldn’t spoil and go to waste.
Deriving from the ancient Greek word melitero, meaning ‘sweet as honey’, the melitinia are delicious tartlets of sweet cheese – similar to the Cretan kaltsounia, although Santorini’s version is more delicate and refined. Skillfully pinched by hand, the dough is made of flour, water, salt and either butter or olive oil, while the filling is a mixture of fresh mizithra or anthotyro cheese, flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla and mastiha (or mastic) powder.
Traditionally made on Holy Tuesday for the evening of Easter, melitinia require time and craftsmanship. Indeed, rumour has it that the women who make the most pleats in the dough are the best bakers. And while you can find them in bakeries throughout the island, the homemade variety is simply unique and delectable. It is a real family affair, with each woman of the household or team given a specific task: one in charge of pinching the dough, one for the filling and so one.
If you feel like trying one, there are plenty of recipes online, but make sure to visit Erotokritos Bakery in Santorini to taste the real deal. And if you’re visiting the island during Lent, there is also a Lent variety, called Dourtouletia, where the filling is honey-roasted almonds rather than cheese.