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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 12:01 am

Olive you

There’s nothing like fresh olives and EVOO

 

It seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in our family. My daughter has loved olives since she was a baby. The only time I ever had to simply abandon my shopping cart and remove my wailing child from the grocery store was over olives at the olive bar. I have to monitor the olive bowl during holidays and parties, as my little one will eat the entire dish if left unchecked. She gets this obsession from her father, who spent several years living in Greece as a child while his father was stationed there in the Air Force. He often says that his favorite memory of his childhood in Greece was of eating briny Kalamata olives and salty feta cheese.

It’s no surprise then that we have been loyal customers ever since Spartan Valley Olives began selling their ripe, plump olives and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market last year. These olives are now a staple pantry item in our home and find their way into salads, pasta, wraps and pre-dinner veggie plates. “The olives at the farmers market have been big for us,” said owner and importer Rini Christofilakos-Soler last week when I met with her in the newly opened Spartan Valley Olive Oil Center on MacArthur Boulevard. “The demand for bulk olives really drove our desire to grow.”  

Christofilakos-Soler’s cousin, Demetri, tends the groves in Anogia, a small town in the Laconia region of Greece. The olives are hand-selected and either brined or processed into EVOO, then quickly shipped to Spartan Valley Olive Oil Center. The brined olives on the shelf had been harvested in April, and the EVOO had been pressed just this past spring and fall. Freshness is a critical quality factor for this product, but it can be difficult to find fresh, true EVOO. I was thrilled to find a locally imported source of high quality olive oil that I could use in daily cooking.

EVOO has long been touted as a healthful “wonder food,” due to its content of a wide range of beneficial plant compounds known as polyphenols. Researchers have found that diets rich in EVOO can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30 percent.  Unfortunately for many consumers, studies have shown that over half the olive oil imported into the United States is of substandard quality. A study by the University of California-Davis found that over half of EVOO imported into the U.S. failed to meet USDA standards for quality.

EVOO is simply pressed olive juice, produced entirely by mechanical means. It is a fresh, perishable product, and its healthful compounds are easily degraded. Much of the EVOO sold in the U.S. has been cut with other vegetable oils or is simply old.  Many bottles on the shelves are several years old by the time they get to the consumer.  True EVOO is an unrefined, fresh product, produced solely by mechanical means without using excess heat or solvents. Unlike wine or brined olives, it doesn’t improve with age or have a long shelf life.  In order to get the most flavor and health benefits from your EVOO, buy fresh oil, use within 4-6 months of opening, and store in a cool, dark place (not in the cabinet above your stove).

In addition to fresh EVOO and brined Kalamata olives, the Spartan Valley Olive Oil Center carries Greek specialty items like feta cheese, baklava, dolmas, grape leaves, capers, pastas and ouzo candies. Specialty balsamic vinegars are also on offer, as well as a line of olive oil soaps and beauty products. The Spartan Valley Olive Oil Center is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Kalamata Olives, EVOO and olive oil soaps can be purchased at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market on Saturdays 8 a.m.-12 p.m.

The Spartan Valley Olive Oil Center is located at 2917 S. MacArthur Boulevard. Phone: 217-546-8044.

Below are some of my favorite recipes that make delicious use of some of the products on offer at Spartan Valley Olive Oil Center.

PHOTO WIKIMEDIA.ORG

 

Olive Tapenade
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pimento peppers
  • 2-3 oil-packed anchovy fillets
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper and sugar to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add olive oil as needed to achieve a spreadable consistency. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for about one week.

Mediterranean Summer Salad
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 sweet red onion
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup halved, pitted Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup crumbled feta
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons julienned basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
Peel cucumber and slice in half lengthwise. Remove seeds, then slice into half-inch slices and place in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and thinly slice the onion, and add those to the bowl with the cucumbers. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Taste before seasoning with additional salt, as the feta and olives are pretty salty on their own. You may find a pinch of sugar helps to round out some of the flavor.  

To make this dish into a complete meal, add some cooked orzo pasta and a can of drained chickpeas.

Ashley Meyer is a mother and chef living in Springfield. After graduating from Sacred Heart-Griffin High School she attended Lincoln University in New Zealand where she studied viticulture and oenology (grape growing and winemaking). During her time there she worked the several olive harvests and developed an appreciation for the beautiful olive groves and the fresh, peppery olive oil they produce.

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