A Sweet, Buttery, Artisanal Olive Oil of the Future

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No one, least of all me, needs another olive oil. We've got loads of good ones that seriously are all pretty excellent. But the Biolea oil has gotten my attention for a couple of reasons, which I'm guessing will make it worth others' attention as well.

The most obvious and most important is that it tastes really good. It's not one of those hit-you-over-the-head flavors but it's really quite delicious. It's just really ... I was going to say "refined" but that's not a good word to use in the olive oil world. Let's say ... elegant? "Mature," maybe, but that sounds "old." "Majestic" could work but I don't want it to sound too elitist because that's the opposite of George Dimitriadis's style.

Grounded. Good. Sustainable. Holistic. Balanced. Those are sounding better to me. Anyway, the point is that it's really a great-tasting oil. And like Shawn Askinosie's Tanzanian chocolate, although it's well within the framework of flavors that one associates with others of its ilk, the truth is it's actually an excellent set of flavors that's very different.

The Biolea is lighter than a lot of our oils—don't let the stereotype of Greek oils being "heavy" fool you.

The Biolea is lighter than a lot of our oils—don't let the stereotype of Greek oils being "heavy" fool you. This one's anything but. It is a bit buttery. Very surprisingly sweet, actually. George wanted to make sure I understood that this lighter flavor was true to the region—this is the way people in the area like their oil. I don't want to get too wonky on you, but it's got a touch of some spice I can't yet nail ... maybe mace, or even a hint of vanilla? George says it has hints of salad greens and lettuces and sorrels and it is slightly citrusy. It's got a touch of pepper at the end, but not too much.

Like the Tanzanian chocolate bars, the Biolea is also interesting for the story. It's taken me a bit of time to get my brain around what's actually going on over at the Astrikas Estate. When I first started learning about the oil some of it was pretty straightforward—the copy has all sorts of good stuff about ecology and the land and acting in environmentally sound ways. The oil is organic. The olives are handpicked. Which is all, of course, excellent, but also not all that different from what a number of our other suppliers seem to be doing. Happily there's a lot more to the story.

The Biolea is one of the few single-estate Greek oils out there—most are from coops (though the Kokoriko from Daphne's sister, Amalia, and brother-in-law, Stathis, is also from only one farm on the island of Zakynthos). The Astrikas Estate is located on the northwest part of Crete, about 20 something miles west of the town of Chania, the fourth village up into the hills after you turn inland from the coastal road. The farm has been in the family for a long time now—George is the fifth generation to run it. The oil is made from Koroneiki olives, the small olive that's most commonly used in Greece, handpicked a bit later in the year than say, the oils of Tuscany, hence the relative sweetness and softness of the oil (which I guess might move it more in line with traditional Ligurian oils) that the people of the area like so much.

But there's more to it that than. Somewhat unintentionally, I got into a long and very interesting dialogue with George, who's clearly providing much of the vision and passion behind the project. I first "met" (on email) George through Aglaia Kremezi, who writes beautifully about the traditional foods of Greece and whom I've known now for many years. Magically we managed to get the oil here in less than a year (it can take two or three sometimes), a credit in part, I sense, to George's determination and focus. He's not a man of small or soft opinions.

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Biolea

When I first started to read about Biolea, I was intrigued because it seems at first glance that they're still using stones to press the oil. While this old traditional method is certainly tried and true and still has its adherents, the newer generation has pretty much passed by the stone. After all our emails though I finally figured out that what George and crew have done is to actually redesign the old stone methods to make them work in a more modern, cleaner, more closely managed, and more sustainable way. "If anyone has to know about Biolea," George began explaining, "they should know that it is not just the tail end of a traditional oil factory from the past. It is a modern, young and very optimistic company that is based on principles of self-reliance, innovation, and environmental consciousness."

Presented by

Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.

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