ralo 2021 SPRING "NEW HARVEST" PRE-ORDER NEWSLETTER

 

 

May 11, 2021

Dear Friends,

We hope you are healthy and well.

“IN A NUTSHELL”

The fresh olive oil is here.

The 2020 harvest was again an excellent harvest, with truly outstanding oils.

We have certified organic Kalamata and Koroni, and non-organic 42Trees.  All three are very strong, robust, full-flavoured oils. 

We continue to offer Gigantic, Manaki and Kalamata olives in vacuum packs, organic olive oil soap and our usual balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy.

We have added two new delicious balsamic vinegars from Greece made according to the Italian traditional method, in limited quantities.  Don’t miss them. (See TRADITIONAL BALSAMIC VINEGAR IN GREECE?” section below for more details).

If you prefer “milder” oils, or if you think the fresh oils may be too intense for your palate, we strongly recommend that you buy “Last Year’s Oils” while we still have them.  Last year’s oils have softened and mellowed but still have lots of flavour.

No price increases.  Pre-order discounts are now in effect. Last year’s oils in 5L tins are “ON SALE”, so get them while they last. 

You have until May 31, 2021 at midnight to place your pre-orders. [EXTENDED TO TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2021 at midnight]

You can have your order shipped to your door or you can arrange a “no contact” curbside pickup in Waterloo.  Full details on our Online Store.

As was the case last year, we will not be attending the Market in 2021.

New times, new rhythms.

TO TRAVEL OR NOT TO TRAVEL

As the “twilight zone” of 2020 and its wave upon wave of bad news flowed into summer, our thoughts turned to planning for 2021.

The specific worry was that if international borders closed then travel to attend the fall harvest in Greece would be impossible.

So, I traveled in early August when I still could, just in case.

Early on, I touched base with our growers. 

The upcoming harvest was looking positive, “knock on wood”.

In the meantime, I visited prospective new suppliers and began research to make “just in case” business arrangements to meet the challenges of our murky and unsettling future.

THE SUMMER OF 2020

Summer and August is tourist season in Greece. Everything was open: hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops.

The number of foreign visitors was visibly lower than in past years.

Greece had been under one of the strictest forms of spring lockdown and had emerged as one of the first wave “success stories”.

So, outdoor seating at cafés and restaurants was in full swing.

The enjoyment of simple life pleasures - sitting in the open air under shade in the company of friends – was an occasion for palpable relief and gratitude.

And yet, there was a studied tentativeness in the tones of the talking.

Unplanned hesitations, pauses and pensiveness hinted at fears and misgivings which loomed about and permeated the conversation.

The familiar “To our health!” cheers with each clinking of wine glasses served another reminder of the wisdom of memory and tradition.

Health is first and paramount. 

Be grateful when you have it.

Live life.  Enjoy life.

Face fate. 

Live.

 

"all men will be sailors then ... until the sea shall free them"


 

UNEXPECTED PLEASURES

Some of you who have adult children may be familiar with how little time they have to spend with their parents.

A couple of years ago, my twenty-something son moved to Paris, France to work at Michelin-starred restaurants and to thus realize his dream of becoming a chef.

August is traditionally vacation month for Parisians and many restaurants close for the month.  Including his!

And so, he was able to join me in Greece.

After a few days in Athens, wandering about and visiting with friends and his closest first cousins, we made our way to our mountain village in the Peloponisos.

Sweltering days often found us under beach umbrellas close to ocean’s edge.

Cool evenings were spent on the back porch of our family’s village home.  

 

In between, we sampled the delicious food at simple local taverns and in the homes of talented home cooks.

 

...wild boar onion stifado, at the hunter's wife's table

...the best fried whole potatoes, EVER...

As the days melted into one another we made time to complete an ambitious day trip to Cape Tainaron, the southernmost tip of both the Peloponisos and mainland Europe.

The drive south of Kalamata on the west coast of the “middle finger” is both breathtaking and spectacular. The sea is on the right, and the narrow road meanders, drops and climbs repeatedly along the mountainous terrain.

 

Cape Tainaron, the southernmost point of mainland Europe

En route we stopped to take photos and visited some of my favourite places from more than two decades of olive oil wanderings.

The highlight was a by-the-sea tavern run by three generations of a family of fishermen. Everything they serve is caught on one of their boats.

If you happen to stumble upon it, order the grilled octopus, the fried calamari and the grilled swordfish or its close (but equally-unlucky-to-be-so-delicious) cousin, the “mayiatiko”. 

In fact, order whatever suits your mood and fancy.  You’ll be delighted.

 

TRADITIONAL BALSAMIC VINEGAR IN GREECE?

For more than twenty years I have been looking for a premium quality balsamic vinegar made in Greece from Greek grapes.  Unsuccessfully.

Dozens of times I had followed promising leads with great excitement.  But, every time I tasted the so-called “balsamic vinegar” I was disappointed. 

Until this year.

I was fortunate enough to make the first acquaintance of a second cousin who is a food and wine enthusiast.  His knowledge of Greek wines, the wineries, the owners, the winemakers etc etc is both personal and encyclopaedic.

After dropping off my son in Athens for his return to Paris, I stayed on to do some “research”.

I shared with my cousin my disappointments with Greek vinegars.  He reached into his cupboard and set two bottles on the counter:

Have you tried these? 
No? Well, I’ll take you there.  I am certain your search is over.
Ten years ago they hired a certified professional expert from Italy to establish a traditional acetaia, or balsamic vinegar operation.
They follow the strictest methods for traditional, all-natural balsamic vinegar production.  Absolutely no additives, no preservatives, no artificial colours or flavourings, no added sugar, no added sulphites.
They offer 1, 2, 4, 6 and 10 year-old traditional balsamic vinegars. 
In two years when their first “batch” of dark vinegar becomes the required minimum of 12 years of age, they will submit their vinegar for testing, tasting, approval and certification by the Italian consortia that are responsible for overseeing “balsamico tradizionale” in Italy.
They also produce a white or blanco balsamic vinegar that is not aged and made in such a way that it is light, not dark, in colour.  Since there is no “traditional” white balsamic vinegar it is not technically “balsamic vinegar”.
Definitely worth your while to check out.

Over the years I have purchased 20-25 year-old Italian traditional balsamic vinegar and have been treated to tastings of aged traditional vinegars by generous friends.

On my way back from one trip to Greece I detoured to see a friend who lives just outside Modena, Italy.  We visited more than half a dozen traditional balsamic vinegar producers.
So, I have an idea what high quality traditional vinegars taste like.
My cousin arranged for a couple of winery visits where we tasted the complete line of each winery’s wines and of course, the one that produces the balsamic vinegars.
When we arrived at the elegant, state-of-the-art winery just outside Athens the whole place spoke “professionalism” and “highest quality”. 

 

They have an impressive wine-making museum and, what we came for, a large room with dozens of wooden barrels set up in “batteries” of decreasing size, just as I had seen in and around Modena.

We made our way to the tasting room.

This Greek balsamic vinegar (and white/blanco “balsamico”) were outstanding. They strike a balance more towards the sweet than the tart side, and with a high quality olive oil, will elevate your salad dressings and marinades to another level.

We decided to bring small quantities of the 4-year-old dark balsamic vinegar and the unaged white balsamico as an introductory offering.

If only it was possible to import and offer selected Greek wines in the same way as Greek olive oils…

(I’ll say nothing further about the mid-tasting “I need some fresh air” ploy that, once outside, dissolved into a three-hour nap in my car with the seat reclined way, way back... while my cousin and the winery owner continued sipping merrily along the entire time, pausing only long enough to confirm that, indeed, for their guest, “life was but a dream”…)

 

PAGEANT OF HARVESTS

One thing on my "to do" list upon arrival in the village was to see if there was still any oregano left standing. 

It usually ripens by late June .  By the end of August most has been picked by local foragers and daytrippers from the surrounding villages and as far away as Kalamata.

I hiked up the mountain to one of my preferred oregano patches.  I was rewarded.  Over the course of several hours in a gentle sea of contemplation I picked what would be needed for our family. 

When I returned home, I hung the bunches in the shade to dry.

The farmers’ markets which are held in most cities and towns in Greece are a delectable marvel. 

There is such a variety of locally produced vegetables, greens and fruit that the offerings of one visit could fill a month’s menu.

Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers occupy archetypical shelves no matter which market you go to. And let me tell you, when you taste a fresh tomato in Greece it's as if you're tasting a real tomato for the first time.

 

August is the start of fresh grapes and luscious figs season.  September brings prickly-delicious cactus pears.  In late September to early October the fresh walnuts are ready to harvest, followed by aromatic quince.

Then, after the rains start in November, it is time to gather wild greens.

 

A MOTHER’S HANDS

Our mother had the greenest of hands. 

She could make anything grow. 

Her method? Break off a branch, stick it in the earth.

She had planted several fig trees, quince trees and, with our father’s help, almost a dozen walnut trees around the family house in the village.

On arrival, I was saddened to see that the walnut tree on the driveway near the house had not survived the May heat wave and months of drought. 

Applying lessons learned from my barber, I pruned it.

 

In early October the walnuts were ready to harvest.  It was good to get double duty from the olive harvesting nets. 

As I knocked at the branches with sticks of varying lengths the falling walnuts bounced and rolled, collecting into puddles of wooden marbles on cushions of green.

SUDDEN “LOCKDOWN” 

In early November a few days’ planned stay in Athens was cut short a few hours after arrival when rumours on TV news warned of a government lockdown announcement “any day now”.

It was expected that there would be a prohibition on county-to-county travel.

Not wanting to be stuck in Athens, I woke up early next morning and got in my car. 

..."Yiayia" (grandma) in the window...

...rural Yiayia gone awol...

...stairway to heaven?

Three hours later I was back in the village.

The lockdown announcement came a day or two later.  It was in exact terms as the rumours had warned. 

Leaks from the source.

 

THE RETURN OF SYSIPHUS

Back in the village, there was plenty of work to do.

Our family’s groves needed to be cleared, as they do every year.

The tall grasses, weeds, small brush and prolific thorns were back.

Luckily, a brother was there to help this time.

Six weeks of almost daily toil, both tiring and invigorating, and the groves were ready to be harvested.

 



GIGANTIC HARVEST

On a day of rest I drove to visit the young couple who supplies our olives.  Though only mid-October they were already well into the harvest of gigantic olives.

Seeing the well-ventilated bins of bright green olives stacked in columns was reassuring.  Some perennial natural rhythms continue undisturbed.

As the olives bumped and rolled across a grading conveyor three pairs of eyes and three pairs of hands looked for blemished olives to remove and discard.

 

They love what they do and know that quality needs vigilance and sacrifice.

Only the flawless end up on your table.

THE VILLAGE OLIVE HARVEST & 42TREES OIL

The weather in November was sunny and warm, with relatively modest amounts of rain.

With my brother’s help we harvested both family groves on the banks of the Neda River.

...on the banks of the Neda, we sat and laid to rest

Each night we brought the crates full of olives inside the fence of our house in the village.

On the third day we were done. We loaded up two cars (with the seats down) and made the long drive to our favourite olive press, the same one that supplies us with our 42TREES non-organic oil.

I had seen this process many times before but for my brother it was the first time. 

A little over 90 minutes after the olives entered the building, the neon green oil was flowing.  Immediately it was put into 5 litre tins.

While we were there, the olive press owner gave me two sample bottles of the oils he had set aside for me, one mild and one strong.  I knew immediately which one I preferred but decided to postpone the final decision.

Every morning it was fresh olive oil for breakfast… on salads at lunch… and on slices of bread toasted in the fireplace in the evening, with a sprinkle of the now-dry oregano…

 

I sipped the 42TREES oil samples several times during each day for a week straight.  Yes, I would get the strong oil.

Beautifully intense fruity, grassy, herbal flavours with a powerful peppery finish.

KORONI ROUNDABOUT

Movement during the strict lockdown was not a straightforward matter. 

The Koroni grower had started harvesting with a large crew to finish quickly and minimize the time between harvest and pressing.  Fear of damage from a freak weather event also played a role.

I met the son of our Koroni grower in a grocery store parking lot near a roundabout outside of Kalamata.

 

When I opened the cap of one of the sample tins of oil from the previous evening's pressing, the leafy, fruity aroma hit my nostrils before the oil hit my tongue.

Rich leafy, grassy and herbal notes, balanced with loud tones of olive fruit.

Top class, robust, full-flavoured olive oil.

IONIAN LETDOWN

In the ensuing weeks I touched base with our Ionian grower.

Unfortunately, the Ionian grower’s oil was not up to our standards. It was the press' fault. Though the grower was blameless the damage was done.

For the first time in approximately 15 years we would not be buying their oil. 

I was sad and they were sad, but there were no hard feelings. 

We are both confident that next year all issues will be rectified and we will have this fabulous oil again.

 

KALAMATA HARVEST

On several occasions over the past decade or so I have visited the Kalamata grower in his olive groves and at the press. 

I have taken photos and, just to make it look good, shaken a stick or two to bring down some olives.  We had talked many times about “one day” when I would be able to harvest with him for an entire day.

Well, this year it finally happened.  In fact, I worked with him for two full days. 

It was very gratifying to work alongside this very caring and sensitive professional who exudes deep passion for nature, his trees, tradition and utmost quality.


 

When I tasted the freshly-pressed Kalamata oil I was startled, in a good way. 

My palate was hit with a such a solid punch of intense herbal fruit bitterness and lively pepperiness that it made me cough.  This year’s strongest-tasting oil.

Exercising care, I took another sip.  Then another.

You’ll do likewise.

WHY ALL STRONG OILS?

As you know, we buy exclusively early-harvest oils.

All of our olive oils are from the Koroneiki variety, a Greek olive variety recognized as producing one of the healthiest olive oils in the world.

Generally speaking, olive oils that taste stronger, more bitter and peppery are healthier than mild-tasting oils.  They have more health-giving polyphenols.

If there ever was a time to go for healthier options, perhaps you can forgive us for thinking that time is now.

The other reason is that stronger oils keep longer than mild oils. 

With all the new potential sources of shipment delay or interruption, we try to err on the side of caution.

MILDER OVER TIME

Our Last Year’s oils have softened and become milder over time.  These fresh oils will follow the same flavour path and will be less intense several months from now. 

So, don’t be alarmed if you find this year’s oils initially overwhelming. 

In time, this too will pass.

ONLINE STORE, SHIPPING & “NO CONTACT” CURBSIDE PICKUP PROCEDURE

The pre-order prices for the fresh oils is now in effect and will end on Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 11:59:59 pm.

As you checkout from our online store you will have two options for your order:

  • 1. Ship or
  • 2. “No contact” Curbside Pickup (356 Cambria Place, Waterloo).

If you choose “Ship”, we will notify you by email when your order has been shipped along with a tracking number so you can follow its progress to you.

If you choose “No Contact” Curbside pickup, all you have to do is send us an email at least 24 hours before picking up to let us know which day and time slot you are coming (EITHER 8am-11am OR 4pm-7pm), any day, seven days a week.

The oil is already here so you can send us the email anytime after you place your online order.

THANK YOU

We thank you for your continuing interest in our products and your support as we (ie you and ralo) enter our third decade together.

Be well.

Robert & Deborah

 

P.S. MORE PHOTOS & CAPTIONS

Since we wanted to post this newsletter without further delay, we want you to know that more photos will be posted in the days to come. 

So, visit us again from time to time to see the latest.

THE MANY FACES OF THE AKROPOLIS

    

 ATHENS OPEN-AIR CINEMA

There are many repertory open-air cinemas throughout Athens.  On a warm evening I went to see 'Breathless', a French Cinema classic directed by Jean-Luc Goddard, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo in his breakthrough role and Jean Seberg as the American girlfriend.  This is the way movies were meant to be seen.

I'm done for!

...what have I done?

Just kidding

Give us a kiss

how should I be feeling?

I don't think she gives a merde...

I don't

what does 'abomination' mean?

ATHENS BY THE SEA

 

 

ATHENS PALIMPSEST

Cézanne's Mont St. Victoire meets El Greco's View of Toledo in Athens

(Thank you to my perceptive art-history-graduate daughter for assistance with this characterization.  Often the homer, I could only see El Greco's Toledo...)

STREET ART

Not everything that comes out of a spray can is artistic or beautiful, but there are numerous examples of street art that beautify the urban landscape in the eye of this beholder.




 

 

STREET WISDUMB?

Street art also includes numerous examples of individual free expression, whether a poem to a loved one, a love lost one,  political speech or observations about life.  It is a catalogue of minimal-mass media:

I counted my mistakes,

And they were of higher quality than my complaints...

So I stopped making mistakes...

But my complaints,

Became of even better quality...

We think too much and feel too little

A day without laughter is a lost day

My wants and my shoulds

Get mixed up somewhere

Between the before and the after


"The system has decided

for your health:

to exchange not becoming sick suddenly

(from a virus)

for you to be sick continually

(emotionally, ethically, psychologically, intellectually,

societally and physically"

Do not underestimate hunger

 

Searching my inner Peace

 

SHRINE #10, MATE

Some of you may know that I am a soccer (aka 'football') fanatic.  Arguably the world's best soccer player ever, Argentina's Diego Maradona, died on November 25,2020. 

Wandering through central Athens I came across this closed shop that was decorated as a hallowed shrine to this claimant for the world's most famous #10. 

The shop had existed this way for many years - a rather idiosyncratic way of honouring an extraordinary, and flawed, human being.

A man whose audacious talent and bold creativity earned him the right to borrow God's hand for an instant on the world's greatest stage before working divine magic with feet that were all his own to score the most electrifying goal in history.

 

my field of dreams by the sea

 FLOWERS, MANY FLOWERS

No matter what time of year it is in Greece, there are always stunningly beautiful flowers in bloom.

 

 

SHEEP & GOATS

Sheep and goats are a common scene throughout the Peloponisos, by the side of the road or right smack in the middle of it.  Somehow, this way of life has survived. A visual time machine.

(Just seeing if you're paying attention)

 

PICNIC IN PARADISE

On a very hot day some friends invited me for a picnic in a tiny grotto fed by a cold spring gushing out of some rocks.  Wild fig trees offer shade for stone ledges built for rest by the weary hands of peasants long-since retired.  Bread, olives, tomatoes and cucumber.  Slices of paradise. 

 

 HOME LEAVING  & HOME COMING

 

 

LOVE IS THE ANSWER

My baby, when

everything finishes, I will

take you so

we can go away

 

DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ & HEAR

 

RAINBOW’S END

Something to look forward to...