“I changed the way the world sees rusk; Kythira Rusk is our unique story because the mere existence of this paradise, the aromatics of this island is a huge part of our story” – Pavlos Koroneos
Sifting through the mix to find the purest form of rusk, I heard tell it was in Greece. After many rusks-fails and some so-so brands, I found the icing, the piece de resistance if you will, in Kythira Rusk. This uniquely crisp rusk made with Kythira olive oil, is produced on the island of Kythira by the Koroneos family of Karavas Bakery.
According Greek mythology, Kythira is the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite. I truly believe that. There are many islands in Greece, but this island is like a beautiful woman, she is the prettiest of all to look at, and her perfume – a mix of wildflowers, mossy waterfalls and salty sea breeze – is alluring. The moment I stepped off the ferry I wasn’t sure which I wanted to do more…eat or explore. Before any of it, I had to meet Pavlos Koroneos, the DJ/Baker of Karavas Rusk, the Kythira olive oil bread that is gaining worldwide attention on the food scene.
I quickly found out, there is no baking blind at this bakery, every little nuance, every little morsel has a story. They fold in the very air and aromas of the island, they literally go down-across-up-and-over the island to gently combine the ingredients that create this light and crispy rusk that cannot be recreated anywhere else on earth.
The Kythira rusk story began 85 years ago where Karavas Bakery, located on the North side of the island, used to house the olive oil factory of the Koroneos family.
In 1932, Pavlos’s grandfather, Dimitris Koroneos, after his 30-year stint in Australia, returned to Kythira to invest in his home island. He created a modern-day, state of the art oil mill in Karavas. This olive oil factory was a hub of activity until 1964.
Enter Pavlos’s father, Yannis Koroneos. After his youthful adventures in Australia, he returned to Athens, Greece. Years later in the early 1990s, restless and yearning for his island, he moved back to Kythira, where he bought into a half share of bakery cooperatives. His love for the job, the values and the faith he has in his place made him a top baking figure on the island.
And that is how the need to build Karavas Bakery was born. The Koroneos family decided to put their energy and money into restoring the olive oil factory to its former glory, but this time the building will house Karavas Bakery. Work begun in 2004 and was completed in 2006.
This is when, the third generation of sons entered the story, DJ turn baker, Pavlos.
“I was born in Kythira, and at the age of three we moved to Athens for a better quality of life, but we always visited my birthplace for our vacations. Although I grew up in Athens I am not really a big-city boy, I am just a country boy who travelled a lot. In a parallel universe, I am a DJ and musician yes, but by the age of 25, I wanted to change my lifestyle. I wanted to return to the island because I craved nature, and I had this dream of showcasing the potential of Kythira. Today, the bakery is doing well. We are the largest and the most famous on the island. And our products are gaining attention from around the globe,” explained Pavlos.
15 years ago, people only knew Cretan rusk, the old fashioned chunky village-style dried bread. Then Karavas Bakery started promoting their lighter gourmet versions of traditional rusk, which quickly gained recognition. Today, even the Cretan bakeries are making a popular rusk by the name of…the Kythira Type rusk.
Kythira island is the bass, the lower end of the frequency, the driving force to Karavas bakery. The beat, of Kythira and Karavas rusks, is like two songs so seamlessly matched that it becomes one fluid song.
The hook, the bit that makes Karavas rusks so interesting is the story of one boy coming to manhood in Kythira. No famous Kythira honey in this stance, but rusk dipped in milk.
“My favourite way to eat rusk that made me grow up and become a man, was through the ages, eating the traditional ones by dipping them in my milk, or lathering it with Nutella, I am a sweet lover, what can I say? Rusk is there in the best of times, and is most connected to nature-times, like when I was a kid and we went olive picking our lunches were rusk, tomatoes and cheese. Simple but delicious.”
How did a DJ transition to becoming a baker, and why? Pavlos explained below:
“I will always have this artistic part of myself, in music, dance and photography, but mostly with music. Music influences my creations and the bakery-life influences my music. Bottom-line is the product is just an epitome of all that I am.
“This is why, how, I want to influence and inspire young people, you know? Because people need to see examples, to see the impossible become possible. They can see from my experience, what I accomplished in a small place like Kythira, in a place of 3,500 people. Young people can do the same by being productive and modern.”
In the old days, promoting a product was different. It was always the product at the frontline and then the producer. Nowadays it is the opposite, it is the producer up front. Shoppers on the whole are savvy, plus social media is all encompassing, and most of all customers really want to know who they are supporting. Customers opt to shop for the products behind hardworking, ethical people whom are producing the best and cleanest foods on the market.
Karavas Bakery aims for transparency, Pavlos said the foods of Kythira are all connected, the air, the water, the earth, they are all Kythira. Then there are the connections on both sides of the business, those are all real people whom are personal contacts.
Karavas Bakery’s commitment has always been to “100 percent support” the smaller producers on the island. The olives, oil, and world-famous honey are all pure Kythiran products. Their goal is to help Kythira’s economy grow, to keep it moving upwards. They want the island to be recognized for what it already is, the best in quality. Currently, Karavas Bakery uses 80 tonnes of olive oil per year of oil, they always need more, plus they are encouraging local farmers to grow wheat, almonds, and carob.
Karavas Bakery is not your traditional countryside old bakery. The whole team is a part of the family business, that includes the customers, and the suppliers. Shopping in this bakery is quite the experience, the aromas are mouthwatering, the line of products are brilliant, the décor is modern-rustic, and of course the ancient mills of the old olive oil factory are beautiful things to see. Added to that, the staff are all friendly, the customers are all neighbours, and the music soothes as you browse the many and unique creations on the shelves.
Pavlos did not remaster the old rusk recipes, instead he used it as the base to create his original sizes, types and mixes. There were 15 types of rusks, sweet and savoury, along with every imaginable shapes and sizes of cookies and Greek sweet treats. On my departure, I felt compelled to purchase many bags of the Original and the Carob rusks, a few dozens of Low FODMAP cookies, and a few packets of Gluten-free treats.
Why Karavas Rusks became synonymous with Kythira? Well, in the past it was created out of a need for a long-lasting food staple for people who would be away from home, like the farmers that were working away for days, or sailors setting off to sea for months. Today, at Karavas Bakery it is made with flour and olive oil, and with various super foods. The rusks are finessed with enough style and class to grace any table and cuisine.
“I changed the way the world sees rusk; Kythira Rusk is our unique story because the mere existence of this paradise, the aromatics of this island is a huge part of our story.
“I am the voice, because I connect the modern world to our products. Yes, I added my personal touch, but the main idea will always be…we can be something big, no matter how small the place we come from.”
Kythira rusks are fantastic accompaniments to charcuterie boards, finger food, Spanish tapas, Persian food, and many other cuisines. Crumble them to make lovely croutons, or toss some in a processor to use as bread crumbs, or cheesecake bases, and even as the final flair in dessert presentations. They add pizazz and class, texture and flavours to every dish.
“People are always asking about the recipe of this success story, but it is not only the recipe, it is how much you love what you are doing. The complexity comes from the simplicity. My base is truly simple. This is the foundation of my meaning of life. And of course, we choose the people that love our rusks, from the suppliers growing the ingredients, to the team baking every day, and the people our rusks goes to.”
The riff of this story is an original, yet it is also an oldie but goodie “Kythira rusk from the hearthstone of Karavas bakery” resonates.