This week I was lucky enough to be invited to experience 'A Journey Through the Flavours of Greece' at specialist Greek produce shop Isle of Olive in Hackney's foodie haven, Broadway Market. Isle of Olive is a charming little place, filled with fragrant indiginous herbs, honey and olive oils on tap and a cute cluster of tables and chairs to enjoy a snack and glass of wine at.
What with Greece being the third biggest producer of olive oil in the world, owners Paulina and husband Greg are passionate about their native produce and had prepared a selection of amazing extra virgin olive oils for us to try. Extra virgin refers to the oils produced from the very first pressing of the olive fruits - after this the quality begins to deteriorate. Greeks take their olive oil very seriously, and with more varieties of olive oils than there are wines, its not hard to see why. To properly taste olive oil:
- Take a little bit into your mouth along with some air, like when tasting wine
- Hold in your mouth to allow the taste to develop properly
- You are looking for three things to define the character 1. fruitiness 2. bitterness 3. pepperiness (this will be felt right at the back of the throat)
- Use slices of apple to cleanse the palate in between tastings
- Colour is irrelevant, so forget about the greenness equating to youth or freshness. In official tastings, a dark opaque glass is even used in the spirit of equality
- Number one below is unfiltered, so has more health giving properties but does not have as long a shelf life as filtered versions
If you're a connoiseur of olive oil then I can highly recommend number four - its made using a variety of olive usually used for eating, not oils and has resulted in a big peppery robust oil - which Paulina still has a few bottles of in store. Perfect for topping yourr Cretan Dakos, which is like a Greek islander's version of bruschetta. The excellent Yotam Ottolenghi has a recipe for it here...
There was also Graviera, a famous Cretan hard cheese, similar to manchego. Paulina had added Greek honey, which is a combo I'm a big fan of:
At home I often pop a little pot of truffle honey on a cheeseboard and usually end up scoffing the lot. Did you know truffle is starting to take off in Greece too?! Paulina and Greg have some in at the moment:
We were also treated to fava - a typical Santorini dish like hummus, but made with yellow split peas and no tahini - very tasty and topped with the most amazing capers I've ever eaten. They also carry caper leaves, which are used in exactly the same way.
Beautiful Kalamata olives:
Warming and comforting chickpea soup from Sifnos (grated carrot, grated onion, soaked chickpeas and a bit of bicarb):
And all perfectly complemented by a crisp glass of this:
Pop down to Broadway Market and see Paulina and Greg there over a glass of wine, or head over to Chapel Market on a Sunday for their stall. They are both so warm and friendly and will help guide you through their excellent array of produce.
PS. The current harvest is taking place in Greece now, so the first of the new season oils will be in store in the next couple of weeks.