Friday, November 27, 2009

Moonlight Oil

Daphne and Amalia

After Thanksgiving expired I spent the following morning at a café with Daphne and Amalia Zepos, the two sisters behind our exclusive Kokoraki olive oil from the island of Zakynthos, Greece. Amalia was in from Athens, visiting Daphne in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving.

It'd been two weeks since the olive harvest finished. Amalia shared details. All the olives were picked and pressed from October 27 to November 13. It's a blend of one part dopia (Greek for "local") and five parts Koroneiki olives. Yields were slightly lower than last year, which to her is a good sign for the flavor. She brought a bottle, the color was electric. She says that's typical for oil from Zakynthos. A minty phosphorescent green that surprises people from elsewhere in Greece, where oil is almost always yellow. 

It's the first time I met Amalia. She is poised, calm, relentlessly precise. She's new to oil making, having taken a seminar with author Judy Ridgway last year and learning otherwise by trial and error and constant discussion with the farmers. She keeps a notebook with each day's pressing notes. Kilos picked, olive oil pressed, rain or sun, temperature, and so on. This year she sourced a special filter tray from Crete to remove stems and leaves on the farm because the machine at the olive press doesn't work well enough for her standards. She's adamant about pressing without the addition of heat (cold pressed) so she waits at the local olive press until all the other farmers are finished and the press is washed and cooled. That often means pressing at 2 in the morning, by moonlight.
If pressing olive oil by moonlight sounds enchanting it's worth noting that it's just the latest chapter in the romantic history of this particular olive grove. Amalia holds a letter that details the ownership of the small farm since 1820. At that point it was bequeathed as a marriage dowry. Even then it was considered valuable, worth enough to win a lifetime commitment between two lovers. Many of the two hundred eight trees are from that period — or older. The newlywed family of two centuries ago would have had oil that's very similar to what we have today. Since then the grove has had four owners, the last being the family of Amalia's husband.

We currently offer 2008's harvest, the first bottled for sale outside Greece. It's a rare example of an estate bottled Greek olive oil. (Almost all Greek oil is made for personal consumption or sold to co-ops and blended.) The flavor is vibrant and bright, like the color. The 2009 harvest will be with us in late spring. The flavor now, intense and green since it was just pressed, promises to be delicious. Both harvests are certified organic.

Amalia is a documentary filmmaker. Here's a short piece she created during 2008's harvest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why doesn't the post office deliver on Sundays?

NPR aired a piece about the woes of the U.S. Post Office today. Sales are down, they're in the red, etc etc. It seems like we hear a report like this every year. A hundred years ago the phone was going to kill direct mail. After that it was UPS. Then FedEx. Now it's the internet. Or something.

The post office has marched out the usual ideas to save themselves. The oldest, most decrepit idea stood up first: stop delivering mail on Saturday. Saves cost, right? Who in America cares if they get mail on Saturday?

Before I go there, let me point out that this is wrongheaded from the start. You can't save your way out of a sales problem. So with that in mind, here's an idea for you Mr. Post Office.

How about Sunday delivery?

I tell you I'm one customer who's dying for someone to offer full weekend delivery. It would be an incredible service improvement to our customers. We could level our weekly shipments since we would no longer have to restrict 2 Business Day shipments to Monday through Wednesday. If someone would offer full weekend shipping, I'd sign up ZMO lickety split. Every year I tell this to our UPS rep, Forrest, resplendent in his perma-tan, over a blueberry donut in our break room. Forrest laughs. Yet, the post office is halfway there. Just add one more day. Come on.

I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bagna Cauda

In northern Italy, where bagna cauda is a common dish,
every Italian man over a certain age owns a pair of pants in this color.

The New York Times has an article today about bagna cauda. It's basically a lament that bagna cauda, (pronounced banya kowda), the Piedmont dipping sauce with olive oil and anchovies, never caught on stateside even though the Times "broke" it to Americans in 1960.

I don't know why it hasn't caught on either. Americans usually love foods that are dipped in other foods. Maybe it's the anchovies? Maybe it's because you dip vegetables? Maybe it's because one of them is a cardoon and who knows what a cardoon is? I don't know. Still, it seems that if, as a nation, we can  embrace dipping chicken wings in blue cheese or scooping corn chips through refried beans, we could get into this.

In the Piedmont, fall begins bagna cauda season. It's a natural for cool weather. The dipping vegetables, mostly roots like carrots, are in season. We have a few jars and warmers for sale. If the Times is right, you might be alone in eating it, but that doesn't mean it's not really tasty.