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.