Read this in Greek on HuffingtonPost.Gr
At this year’s Greek Food Expo with over 900 exhibitors sharing the cornucopia of the best Greece has to offer I saw that what was once a flicker it now a flame. The entrepreneurial spirit I felt when I first came to Greece is now visible and taking its message to the world – the world of food, from the land of plenty.
Within the vast array of traditional and established food companies were six in particular which passion is carving out a niche not only exceptional but extraordinary. These small farming enterprises, often flying in the face of tradition or economic challenges, are finding a new way. Each opened my heart, not only with the quality of their offering but the love and enthusiasm they bring to their product. I say product, but I really mean dreams come true.
You can see the California girl in Marcie Lee Mayer’s smile and the easy way she tells her story. Thirty-two years in Greece on the island of Kea, Marcie shared that “It started out as a project to save the ancient oak forest.” But it is so much more than that. A personal health history that would have stalled most of us became fuel for her determination. Not only did she reinvigorate the use of acorn caps for natural dying of leather, but she proved to disbelieving villagers that picking up acorns was like picking up coins. This they believed, and now the acorn harvest thrives giving work to many families. Inspired by a childhood vision, Marcie worked with the American Farm School in Thessaloniki to develop the flour that she uses in her Acorn Cookies. They are delicious and nutritious and proof that the earth continues to offer up riches and they are often right before our eyes. Hear more on Marcie’s TED Talk.
Eftichios smiled and told us that instead of renting a tractor like other olive growers, he rented a donkey – until he felt sorry for it and went back to simple manpower. Three hundred trees on Crete of Kalamata and Tsounati tower 11 to 20 meters growing on rocky slopes. Olives can only be handpicked. Inspired by the research of Drs. Prokopios Magiatis and Eleni Melliou into the health properties of early harvest olive oils, Eftichios began to pick in September to the ridicule of his neighbours. Traditionally olives are left to ripen and drop before gathering – sometimes as late as March. What was Eftichios’ reward for following his intuition? Pamako, ultra premium–mountain extra virgin olive oil with over 1450mg/kg of polyphenols. EU labelling regulation allows any olive oil with over 250mg/kg of polyphenols to make a health claim. This exceptional olive oil is not only healthy but truly medicinal.
The Organic Herbal Tea Collection is the ambassador from Greece into Europe and North America to tell the story of saffron, one of the most precious spices in the world. The saffron from this region is considered one of the best sources in the world and in 1998 entered PDO classification. The teas are the first to combine organic herbs with saffron for a pleasing and healthful tea for every day use and nutritional boost. Science once again is proving what the ancients knew and that is saffron’s benefits as an anticonvulsive, digestive and antiseptic with antioxidant properties. It is also known to neutralize free radicals and boost memory. Krocus Kozani Products is the joint venture between the Cooperative de Saffran of Kozani and the Greek skincare brand Korres that seeks out local producers and mentors them in organic and sustainable practices. This mutually beneficial JV proves a new corporate model arising in Greece where small enterprise is supported to promote Greek excellence.
Marianna’s Vineleaves, Chalkidiki
On a hot afternoon, long before our move to Greece, we trekked across the fields of Chalkidiki in search of the ‘best dolmadakia in the world’. We met Marianna and her husband Tsakis at their home and were welcomed in like family. Marianna told us she uses her grandmother’s traditional recipes for preserving and making use of bounty of the Kazakis family vineyards starting with vine leaves. Their son who studied at the Agricultural University saw the trend in organics and an opportunity to build on tradition and his mother’s ‘ever-innovating spirit’. The farm is now ISO22000 certified and the many products available in supermarkets make use of every season’s offerings: spring vinetops, May vineleaves September petmezi and winter tsipouro, and other treats along with those famous dolmadakia. It’s truly a family enterprise with both sons active building on their Mother’s vision. Seeing her again at the show and knowing her success was a warm and inspiring reunion.
Spirulina is a superfood offering a full spectrum of nutrients in a perfect ratio for human assimilation. The best non-animal protein is found in Spirulina, complete in all amino acids and rich in vitamins, minerals antioxidants, essential lipids, trace elements is readily digestible up to 95 % or more rendering it a complete food. It balances the diet and is beneficial for preventing or treating viral diseases and boosting the immune system. Spirulina is seen as a complete and economical answer to world hunger and malnutrition. Consistent temperatures and sunny conditions are required to grow this healthful crop and these are found right here in Greece on the geothermal field of Therma, Nigrita, Serron. Stringent practices under modern greenhouse facilities provide an exceptional quality 100% pure Spirulina tablets. The company anticipates producing 100 tonnes by the end of 2017. They are proud of what they have accomplished since 2012 and deserve to be!
This amazing and unusual enterprise offers up the “experience, the knowledge and the artistry of the folk mushroom hunter, with the signature of the Mushroom Museum of Meteora”. These fifty-one mushroom food products showcase a range from dried wild mushrooms to mushroom liqueur and mushrooms in chocolate. Wild Greek mountain mushrooms are known for their exceptional quality and enjoyed not only for flavouring but their many health benefits – rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. Here, both wild and cultivated mushrooms are presented marinated, dried, powdered and in pasta. The packaging, especially the wooden mushroom-capped bottles show a deeper aesthetic that becomes apparent when the story of the Natural History Museum of Meteora is told. A private museum ISO 22000 where sales of meticulously produced products support the vision to instil reverence for Nature’s bounty, beauty and vulnerability in artistically crafted exhibits, simulating natural environments. The same dedication is evident in this exceptional variety and presentation of products.
During our first year in Greece I felt a pulse beneath the shadow of crisis and national depression.
People with vision and enthusiasm, love for their country and an entrepreneurial spirit were striving to succeed in the face of opposition.
I was so moved that I wrote about Xenophon and the Ten Thousand Generals. Entrepreneurs, I believe, will lead Greece into a renewed era of excellence. I am a proud Philhellene!