Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Press Release: New in English – A Website All About Greek Olive Oil

Chania, Crete, Greece. 
[This article may be republished without requesting permission.]
Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (A New Website)

As Italian restaurants donate income from pasta dishes to earthquake victims, an American living in Crete launched a website about Greek olive oil that features recipes, photos, information, and news. Offering original renditions of Greek recipes while highlighting the latest disclosures on olive oil’s health benefits alongside stories about olive oil production and use and culinary tourism, Lisa Radinovsky aims to help the ailing Greek economy.  

Radinovsky, an English professor turned writer and photographer, has teamed up with Dimitris Doukas, a Princeton-educated Greek computer scientist, and his team at Twin Net Information Systems Ltd. in Athens to create a new website all about Greek olive oils, Seeking to inform consumers, cooks, tourists, buyers, and importers worldwide about the quality and health benefits of Greek extra virgin olive oil, they hope to help increase demand for it. 

Researching and writing about Greek olive oil business news for the online publication Olive Oil Times, Radinovsky searched in vain for a comprehensive, up-to-date English-language source on her topic. Struck by Greeks’ use of olive oil in almost everything they cook or bake and impressed by Greeks’ efforts to produce, market, and export a high quality product in the midst of an economic crisis, she decided to create the information source she couldn’t find.

Launched in August, features recipes and photos from Greece, information about olive oil, its production process, the Mediterranean diet, agrotourism and culinary tourism, and the latest news on Greek olive oil—something for everyone with an interest in Greece, cooking, healthy eating, or olive oil. Aris Kefalogiannis, CEO of Gaea, one of the major exporters of bottled Greek extra virgin olive oil worldwide, called the Greek Liquid Gold website “an excellent source of information and news on Greek extra virgin olive oil.”

The new site features original recipes from Greece as well as links to a variety of other recipes using olive oil and hints about cooking and baking with it. It includes a description of an olive oil tasting class, photo essays featuring Cretan olive groves and a botanical park, and stories about a Cretan sea captain turned olive farmer and a Greek-born Italian computer programmer who produced some of the best Greek olive oil of the year, to the surprise of his Italian compatriots.

Living in Crete for nearly 14 years, Radinovsky has learned from cooks, olive oil producers, and industry leaders throughout Greece. Moved by the “many dedicated farmers, exporters, and marketers who are striving for excellence against the odds,” she intends to bring their olive oils to the attention of those searching for both a good, healthy functional food and a way to help the Greek economy get back on its feet. Greek professor and olive oil researcher Dr. Prokopios Magiatis agrees that “olive oil is a main factor that can help Greece exit the crisis.”

With 80% of Greek olive oil belonging to the highest category, extra virgin, and Greece the third largest olive oil producer in the world, the National Bank of Greece estimates that Greek olive oil could bring in an additional 250 million euros annually if more were bottled and branded in Greece before export. Now, 70% of exported Greek olive oil is sent to Italy in bulk and blended with olive oils from various countries. Greek Liquid Gold highlights the Greek producers and exporters striving to change that as they look to foreign markets for a way out of the economic crisis.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

From Spring into Summer with Greek Produce, Problems, and Glimmers of Hope

The Abundance of Crete in Spring, Summer, and Holidays

I scrambled up a rocky hillside at the end of May, following a goat path between sharp little shrubs. A sleek lizard streaked across the dried mud in front of me. I didn’t dare pluck any of the lavender-colored thyme flowers for fear the bees intent on the blossoms would punish me for my intrusion. That hardy wild thyme was thriving then, with beautifully rounded bushes full of their tiny blossoms.

April had been remarkable for the amount of produce and homemade food and drink we received as gifts from neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. I visited my favorite loquat tree at the edge of a generally untouched olive grove in an uninhabited lot for some of the sweetest fruits I’ve ever eaten, picking them before the insects and birds could finish them off and noticing that some were nearly as sweet as the syrupy Greek desserts I can’t eat (although others enjoy them).

Neighbors’ trees overflowed with lemons that our strong island winds blew to the ground or into the street, so bags of the bright yellow fruit appeared at our door before we’d exhausted our supply. Fortunately, I’ve adopted the Greek habit of squeezing fresh lemon juice on such foods as fish, chicken, meat, and cabbage/carrot salad, as well as in water and a chamomile/baking soda gargle. Some of the very ripe lemons are so sweet that it’s easy to eat the pulp.

And there were fresh, sweet Cretan oranges through spring and even into summer. An American friend of a Dutch neighbor welcomed me and my kids to her orange grove one sunny, windy day. It was a glorious time to wander among trees and pluck the cheerful orange fruit from their branches, and to climb a tall tree to enjoy a view of surrounding hills full of olive groves. I couldn’t tear my kids away from those trees, where they gleefully climbed after the hard-to-reach fruits, before we ended up with a large file box full of them, plus two huge bags to wedge into our fridge—so we had plenty to share with the neighbors who’d given us lemons, loquats, kaltsounia, Easter cookies, olive oil, and wine!

Such treats also played a part in the magnificent Easter feast friends shared with us on Orthodox Easter, when I contributed American desserts (carrot cake with cream cheese icing and chocolate chip cookies), since those are the only foods I can make better than anyone else I know around here. (At least I used Cretan olive oil in the cake, for a slight variation on my mother’s recipe.)

On Easter Monday, we were invited to lunch in a village square, where tables of lamb, salad, bread, kokoretsi (which includes lamb or goat intestines), and kaltsounia (little Cretan cheese and herb pies) were set up under towering plane trees, next to one of the village churches and a small, shaded stream, in the midst of the olive groves of the Kolymvari region. Greeks may crowd together, but they always find seats for everyone at the table. No one eats with a plate on their lap in Greece. And Greek dancing may well begin after a feast ends, as it did that day in the village square.  

On the way back from our Easter Monday lunch, we made two detours to show the kids the monumental olive tree of Ano Vouves, which locals believe to be the oldest olive tree in the world, and to see the German World War II cemetery at Maleme. Strong winds whipped up the silver green sides of olive leaves, and branches moved in a frenzied dance in the olive groves that filled hills, valleys, and roadsides. The winds gathered and scattered a mixture of clouds that ranged from dark grey and threatening to puffy and white in patches of light blue sky.

Now a hot, rather humid summer is following a too-dry, too-warm winter and spring in Crete, with the sweet scent of green and purple figs growing in the intense sun and the even sweeter perfume of white jasmine and plumeria flowers, the sound of cicadas overtaking dogs’ barking, birds’ chirping, and doves’ cooing. Some American friends arrived in June, in time to see brilliant walls of fuschia bougainvillea and pink and white oleander in full bloom near tiny grapes and little olives. Family came from the USA and Canada in July, as the unwatered oleander passed its prime, and the olives, grapes, and figs grew. We visited beaches, olive mills, Ancient Aptera, Sunset Restaurant in Horafakia, the Old Port of Chania, the Botanical Park of Crete—some of our favorite places.


Life in Greece Is Still No Vacation


 Although many are enjoying their holidays, there is too much bad news for others to enjoy anything. Very few of the refugees that European countries were supposed to take in have left Greece, Italy, or migrant camps. Greece continues to struggle with more than 57,000 refugees and migrants within its borders, searching for adequate, humane housing, food, healthcare, and registration and asylum procedures. We hear of Syrian refugees so exhausted and hopeless that they pay smugglers to return them to Turkey so they can resettle in a homeland still torn by a dangerous civil war. Even before a short-lived coup attempt led to a government crackdown on perceived enemies, Turkey threatened to pull out of its agreement to try to prevent or take back migrants and refugees arriving in Greece by sea from Turkey. Terrorists have struck too many times, places, and human beings to keep track of—for those of us not directly related to those people and places.

Taxes are going up more in Greece, pensions are going down again, nearly a quarter of Greeks remain unemployed, many storefronts stand empty, families have less disposable income, and still Greece’s creditors are not satisfied by the insane amount of “austerity” the Greek people have been enduring for six years now. A dilapidated Neoclassical mansion in Chania with its doors and windows gone and roof caving in is just one sad symbol of much sadder human stories about lives in disarray so European banks could be repaid—not so the Greek economy could rebound and the country could rebuild, as continued excessive austerity makes that extremely difficult.

Like many, I’ve gone through phases of disappointment that each new Greek government and each new “bailout” plan have failed to solve the country’s problems, disgust that Greece’s creditors don’t seem to make logical demands, astonishment at the failed political games of both Greeks and other European leaders, anger and rage about the human suffering as increasing numbers of people here lose access to adequate health care and nutritious food, and the suicide rate rises—engulfing a family I know well--and despair when it just doesn’t look like anyone will offer reasonable solutions to pressing problems.

I have jumped into intense discussions, mostly in Greek but partly in English as I run out of Greek but my rage continues, about how little many Greek grade school teachers appear to care about students or their parents. I have found no one who disagrees with me—not even the kindergarten teacher I spoke with. The latest proof to set me off was our elementary school teachers’ decision, for the second year in a row, to schedule the end of the year celebration that used to occur on a lovely late spring evening in the late morning, when working parents need to be at work—since morning is the teachers’ work time, and a couple dozen teachers have more rights than several hundred parents.

No matter if that was the same time our older children were taking some of the useless two-hour exams that occupy occasional hours of their last month of school, in place of lessons. This leads to my more serious educational complaint: apparently some secondary school teachers prefer to take a four-month summer vacation, instead of a mere three months, subjecting children as young as 12 to exams based on intense memorization of facts they will forget soon after each exam, for which they are expected to prepare at home, alone, not in review sessions at school.

There will be no educational benefit, since the exams will not be returned to the students or discussed after they are taken. So 12 through 18 year olds, not their teachers, are held responsible for their last month of learning each academic year. Of course, I should not imply that this is the fault of each individual teacher. But surely a general teachers’ revolt could change this terribly faulty system, which also pushes senior high school students to give up their childhood and work harder than anyone else in the country to gain a place at a free university where they will be too burned out to attend the classes that should prepare them for careers.

Reviving Hope: If It Doesn’t Exist, Create It

Sometimes I lose hope for Greece. But it was revived one Friday in early June. First, at the state health insurance office, I was dismayed to see a notice indicating that the person who could give me the papers I needed did not work with the public on Fridays. However, since she was helping someone else, I waited and found that she was willing to help me as well. She discovered a problem with my registration in the system: some of my information was in Greek letters, and some in Latin letters. It had to be consistent. So she took my ID and health book and fixed it, then went to another office, and came back with stamped papers. Unfortunately, I saw that she’d misspelled my mother’s name (in a way that made perfect sense in Greek). When I pointed this out, she calmly redid all the papers. Patient, efficient, willing to help: such civil servants still exist in Greece!

Stopping to copy my papers at the local toy and book store, Trenaki (which means “little train”), I was astonished to find it a totally different place than the previous week! I thought it had undergone major renovation to make it roomier, brighter, and better organized, with appealing, shoulder-high train ends on the bookshelves to match the store name. When I wished the owner good health—as Greeks do for all new clothes, new purchases, and new beginnings—Sophia surprised me by saying that her store contained all the same furniture and goods as before. 

Amazing. Sophia and her assistants had reconsidered the organization with great care and figured out how to overcome the crowding and darkness that plagued the useful, popular little store; they’d come up with a great solution. Now if they can do that, and the state health system has elements that work better than advertised, there does seem to be hope here in Greece. One step at a time, one person at a time.  

Thinking about what a friend could do if she and her friends don’t want to keep driving an hour a day to play on the only beach volley team in our area, I realized that my unconscious, unspoken motto in recent years may have become “if it doesn’t exist, create it.” Perhaps inspired by our elementary school’s wonderfully proactive, creative, and energetic parents’ association, which organized an affordable after-school and weekend activities program out of nothing during the economic crisis, or by the grassroots group in Chania that founded a soup kitchen (Κοινωνική Κουζίνα) that continues to serve hundreds of Greeks, migrants, and refugees, I started taking some modest action myself, foreigner though I am.

When I missed my far-off family and friends and got tired of explaining why life in Greece is no vacation (although a vacation in Greece is splendid!), I started this blog. When I lamented the lack of variety in kids’ summer programs in Chania, I attempted to convince some mothers and professors to help develop a summer science camp at the Technical University of Crete (TUC). My first spring efforts seemed to come to nothing, but they may have put the idea into circulation, because the following year a summer program seemed to materialize at TUC out of thin air.

When I saw that the refugees stranded in Chania for months and then years were receiving too little attention and assistance, I asked families at my children’s school to donate food and clothing and received an impressively generous response—several times. I never approached the accomplishments of many grassroots volunteer groups and heroic individuals, I did not set up a soup kitchen or help thousands of refugees as many have, but at least I got something done.

I have lived in Crete for almost 14 years. During that time, I have born two children, given up trying to keep up with their Greek, and tried to reconcile my dissatisfaction with the Greek educational system with my realization that some excellent teachers here are giving my children a solid grounding of knowledge. I have learned from Greeks, migrants, and refugees from various parts of the world about the problems in their countries, including the Syrian war and the Greek economic crisis.

I have learned to not only ignore, but fail to see, junked cars,

unfinished buildings, and scattered garbage along the roads. I have given in to the need to help feed some of the wandering cats around us and the necessity of a pillow over my head to sleep through the night-time barking of dozens of stray and under-attended neighborhood dogs. I have learned to distinguish the perfume of jasmine flowers from the scent of fallen, crushed figs. And in the past year and a half, I have been captivated by the beauty of Greek olive trees and become an advocate for the unique flavor and incredible health benefits of Greek extra virgin olive oil, which deserves a more prominent position on the worlds’ specialty store, grocery store, and kitchen shelves.

When I began writing about the Greek olive oil world for Olive Oil Times in the spring of 2015, I was surprised to discover that there was no source of consistent, reliable, in-depth information on my subject in English. So I started from scratch, educating myself with the generous assistance of Greek olive oil producers, consumers, marketers, and exporters, as well as online and print sources in Greek and English. I’ve shared what I learned in dozens of articles, but the source I was looking for did not materialize. Well, if it doesn’t exist, create it. So I did: Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil—first, a Facebook page, now, a website. It’s all about Greek olive oils: gorgeous photos, delicious recipes, astounding health benefits, and the latest news.

See for photos, recipes, news, and info about olive oil.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Refugees I Know: A Fourth Graders’ Interview and an Optician’s Donation

This article is not about the riots in Greek detention camps or increasing tensions over the 53,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece, where unemployment is too high for them to find the work and aid they need, and some refugee babies do not seem to be not getting enough formula. I will not discuss the European Union’s controversial agreement with Turkey to send back migrants and refugees who arrive in Greece on smugglers’ boats from Turkey. I will not describe the bombing destruction of a hospital in Aleppo, Syria or the “near total collapse” of the ceasefire that has led to “one Syrian killed every 25 minutes” over 48 hours in the middle of last week. I will not focus on the Pope’s visit, along with the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Churches and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, to refugees at the Moria detention center on the island of Lesbos. You can learn about all of that in the news, if you haven’t already done so.

I want to focus on connections between ordinary human beings, the type of connections that give me and some of my new refugee friends hope for this world and our children’s future in it. I will tell you about some of the refugees from Syria whom I know because they were living in Chania, Crete, Greece since April 2014, and my interest in learning their story turned to concern about their needs and efforts to gather food and clothing for them. I will discuss several fourth graders’ interview with the refugees who are still here, and an optician’s generous gift of eyeglasses to one who needed them. I will emphasize the personal interactions, the talking and listening, learning and getting to know each other, that the world needs. All but one of my new refugee friends have now managed—after nearly two years of waiting, in some cases—to reunite with family in Germany or Sweden. But we will not forget each other.

The refugees I met in Crete were not trying to reach Greece. Having left Syria earlier, they set out from North Africa, bound for Italy and then Germany or Sweden on a dangerous route that is being revived now that the migrants’ path through Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans has been blocked. (For more on their story, see Greek Crisis, Summer 2015, Part 2: Syrian Refugees in Greece.) As humanitarian aid groups have said repeatedly, walls and prohibitions don’t stop migrants and refugees; they just turn them in a different, often riskier, direction. Thousands have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea since walls like the ones between northeastern Greece and Turkey, and between northern Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, have been erected to prevent land crossings. The children, mothers, and fathers I met were rescued from rusty wreck of a boat more than two years ago, before Europe had seen last year’s arrival of a million refugees.

My son’s fourth grade class was one of eight or ten elementary school classes in our area to receive a journalism association’s award for the article they based on their interview with some of the refugees I know. After helping to gather food and clothing for the refugees several times during the past two years, my son’s teacher came up with the idea for this project. She, another Greek mother, three of our children, and I spoke Greek and English with five of my new friends from Syria, including a boy my son’s age and his older brother, who had quickly picked up Greek in their two years here. The ten year old boy was proud to be one of the best students in his Greek elementary school class.

Although the children did not have enough time to overcome their shyness with each other before the Syrian boys left Greece with their mother to rejoin their father and older brother in Sweden, the Greeks and I certainly learned something from the refugees. The students and their teacher shared the refugees’ stories with the rest of their class, broadening the circle of multicultural understanding. The Greek children’s article was complimented and quoted at the journalists’ awards ceremony, bringing additional attention to the struggles of refugees in Greece.

Our children learned about the refugees’ efforts to escape war in their country, where people were being shot and bombed. They heard about the refugees’ difficult boat journey, on which one man died trying to jump from one vessel to another in rough seas that knocked the boats together to crush him when he fell. They discovered that the refugee father sought a job, while the children wanted schooling, so the teenager could become a dentist. They saw the boys’ drawings of a home and school which they wanted to share with their brother, who was far away in Sweden. The learned that these children longed for a normal, safe home and school like the Greek children have. This father wants that for his family, from whom he has been separated for one and a half years. He should not have had to wait so long for the appointment with an embassy that will allow a reunion with his wife and small daughters. As he told me that reunion had finally been scheduled, my friend broke into the first smile of radiant joy I’ve ever seen on his face.

After the interview, that father told me he had consulted my ophthalmologist about his persistent headaches, and she had prescribed new glasses for him, as well as a test she would arrange for him. He said he did not have the money to pay for the glasses and asked if I could help. I couldn’t promise to do so, since I’d already asked so many people to donate money, food, and clothing for refugees and others in need in the last two years that I didn’t know if I could come up with the price of glasses. However, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask the optician in our village of Kounoupidiana, near Chania, whom I’d visited a number of times; he’d always been helpful with repairs as well as new glasses.  

I was hoping Petros Andreadakis would offer a very good price on new glasses for my refugee friend, and I was absolutely delighted when the optician offered to cover the costs and service completely! He even thanked me for giving him the chance to help. This is the type of Greek generosity that inspired a Nobel Prize nomination petition, and the sort of kindness we need to see more. As Petros’s assistant and I chatted with my friend and his Syrian friend, who has lived in Chania for decades, Petros fixed my friend’s new glasses. Then he checked and adjusted their fit and provided a case and cleaning cloth. If you are in the Chania area and need glasses or sunglasses, please look for Petros Andreadakis at Aristotelous Street # 3 in Kounoupidiana, just a few doors down from the stoplight and across from a large gas station. (Petros and his assistant both speak English.) Let’s support those who are ready to help people in need.

If Pope Francis can take twelve Syrian Muslims back to Rome, why can’t other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others welcome more refugees of different faiths into their communities as well? During this, the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II, more people need to fully understand, as the pope does, that “migrants, rather than simply being a statistic, are first of all persons who have names, faces and individual stories.” Children should have no reason to give the pope drawings of other “children drowning in the sea.” As Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, said,The Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb.” But the more migrants are pushed away from land routes by walls, fences, and agreements, the more they seek more dangerous routes, such as the one between North Africa and Italy on which 500 children, women, and men are reported to have drowned recently.

As Orthodox Easter and May Day approached, the sun grew too hot for many of our wildflowers. Most of them are drying up, although many of the irrigated garden flowers have begun to flourish. I admire the perfect pink, white, and red rosebuds, the brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea, the bright red geraniums, the new pink and white oleander, the fragrant yellow and white honeysuckle. I can still pluck some eucalyptus leaves from neighborhood trees and fold them to release their aroma, and I know where to find enough wild and escaped flowers (including wild carrot, shrub verbena, and nasturtiums) for late spring bouquets. I send photos of some of them to my refugee friends in Germany, where their children are in school, and a kind American friend of mine has helped them settle in. I am thinking about the world’s refugees, and especially the refugees I know, today, as I prepare to join an Orthodox Easter celebration here in Greece.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Crete and Athens

Cretan Olive Oil Champions 

Three weeks ago, on a rare solitary drive beyond Crete’s Souda Bay, I climbed and descended hills on curving roads bordered by towering dark green pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees, clusters of reeds and plane trees near riverbeds, brilliant yellow acacia trees, and light green emerging spring leaves. I passed olive groves stretched out below mountains and long beaches lying next to a deep blue sea. I sped along under a bright blue sky decorated with billowy cumulus clouds in varying shades of white and grey. Every time I drive from Chania to Rethymno, I am so impressed by the scenery that I must fight off the desire to stop and photograph the view.

I continued on my way to the 2nd Cretan Olive Oil Competition awards ceremony in Rethymno, which turned out to be a combination of the ceremony I expected and a short conference about olive oil production, marketing, and quality analysis. My limited Greek left me with only a general idea of the points being made, but I was struck by the way the judges and panel leaders represented a cooperation between Greeks (such as International Olive Council trainer of olive oil tasters Effie Christopoulou) and Italians (especially agronomist, olive cultivation expert, and consultant Antonio Lauro) in the olive oil sector. 

I also understood that the judges praised this year’s considerable improvement over last year’s extra virgin olive oil samples (in the first Cretan Olive Oil Competition). In fact, the judges were so impressed by the quality of this year’s samples and the very small differences among the best oils that they decided to award a number of honorable mentions. Since I have not seen the full results of the 2nd Cretan Olive Oil Competition announced anywhere in English, I list all the winners, including honorable mentions, below this article.

Before the awards ceremony, the governor of Crete, Stavros Arnaoutakis, and the mayor of Rethymno, Giorgos Marinakis (who’s also president of SEDIK, the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities), emphasized the importance of the “brand name” of Crete and the Cretan diet. While I’d never thought of these as “brand names” before, the governor and the mayor had a point: these words could be used that way, especially since the Agronutritional Cooperation and the Region of Crete have begun certifying certain high-quality locally grown produce and traditional products with the Quality Label “CRETE.”

The mayor discussed the need to forge more links between tourism and Cretan cuisine and products, so tourists taste and purchase more local products such as olive oil. I’ve heard this argument before, and it seems self-evident to me: Greece has wonderful fresh, local agricultural products and foods which all my non-Greek visitors rave over. Tourists’ discoveries of incredible food and drink here should carry over into a desire to take some of that home with them, and then to import it to their home country. This would benefit everyone: tourists would have excellent healthy products, they would help improve the struggling Greek economy, and they could introduce their family and friends to Greek products as well as sharing stories about Greek beaches and archaeological sites.

Food Expo Greece

The day after my trip to Rethymno, I woke before dawn—not an easy feat for me--for an early flight to Athens and a day-long visit to the Food Expo that was conveniently located a short shuttle bus ride from the airport. It was my first visit to a major trade fair, aside from book publishers’ exhibits at the large literature conferences I attended back when I was still an English professor in the U.S.A. The Food Expo’s scale was impressive, with its 55,000 visitors from 55 countries and more than 970 Greek and international exhibitors, including 153 exhibiting olive oil—my main interest, as an Olive Oil Times correspondent covering the event and manager of the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Facebook page.

Wandering around the 55,000 square meter Metropolitan Expo site, I must have covered many American football fields’ worth of territory that day, from the Oenotelia international trade fair for wine and spirits to the Mediterranean Food Experience with its exhibits of products from different regions of Greece, its group of white-clad chefs tasting the dishes prepared below and projected on a movie-theater-sized screen, and its audience listening to interviews and enjoying samples.

I spent most of my time meeting with dozens of olive oil businesspeople, talking with them and sampling their extra virgin olive oils, as well as small appetizers, snacks, and vinegars. Many were excellent, but I think my favorite sample was the chocolate mousse with olive oil offered by E-LA-WON. I never would have guessed chocolate and olive oil made such an incredible combination, but try it with a really good extra virgin olive oil, and you’ll see how amazing it is. E-LA-WON’s luxury olive oil with bits of real edible gold flakes floating in the liquid gold of the oil was also visually and conceptually striking, although I didn’t get to taste it.

It was exciting to see such a vibrant illustration, at the Food Expo, of what motivated Greek businesspeople can do, even in the midst of a continuing economic crisis. Everyone I talked with offered high-quality products in attractive containers, and they spoke with confidence about their contacts with international buyers. Moreover, many simply seemed like nice people to talk with. Forget the stereotypes of lazy Greeks and Greek inefficiency; I saw the opposite at the bustling, well organized Food Expo. This is not an advertisement; it’s the truth.

Before I came to Greece with my PhD in English and my love of photography, I was more interested in academics and artists than businesspeople. But since I have started learning and writing about the Greek olive oil industry, I have come to understand that good, conscientious businesspeople, including talented marketers and designers as well as intelligent olive oil bottlers and exporters, can do a great deal to help the hard-working producers of olive oil earn a fair living. Together, all of these people can—and should--help the Greek economy recover, if the end product is a high-quality item that is marketed well to bring the price it deserves.

Overall, I found the Food Expo an invigorating, encouraging sign of hope for Greece, its people, and its economy. And I hope the foreign buyers there will order a lot from their Greek contacts. As Philippe Poli of Philippos Hellenic Goods told me, just "like you have different wines, you can have different [olive] oils each day, sold together in a shop." Hear, hear, international buyers! Order a wonderful assortment of Greek extra virgin olive oils, and offer your customers impressive health benefits as well as excellent tasting oils. Individual consumers can either ask their local supermarkets and gourmet stores to order Greek olive oils, or go to companies’ websites to order. (See the Greek Liquid Gold Facebook page for links to many of these websites.)

Return to the Cretan Spring

It was refreshing to return from the vicinity of the Athens airport to the blossoms, blue sea, and sky of the Cretan spring, but we were hit by the worst dust storm I’ve ever seen a day later. It blew out the large plate glass window on our elementary school patio, so school was dismissed early. In place of our view of the Mediterranean sea, hills, and mountains we saw a strange gray-orange haze of African dust.

By the end of that week, however, we could once again enjoy the calm touch of a Greek island spring and the extensive  array of Cretan wildflowers in and around my neighborhood: giant fennel rising like little trees from a feathery light green base to spherical clusters of golden yellow florets at the end of multiple branches; Cretan rock roses with five delicate pink crepe paper petals surrounding a miniature sun; the soft lavender spikes of thistles above their treacherously sharp leaves; my beloved fuschia field gladiolas beneath the tiny white blossoms of olive trees; bizarre little pink tongue orchids between the trees; and radiant gold and white crown daisies bordering roadsides. Ah, spring in Crete! A few tourists are here, but most will miss this season’s beauty. More should come early, so they don’t miss the wildflowers!

Winners and Honorable Mentions at the 2nd Cretan Olive Oil Competition

In two categories, conventional and organic

Conventional Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Gold ELEA (or “olive”): Liokarpi PDO, a Koroneiki monovarietal (that is, an extra virgin olive oil made only from the Koroneiki variety of olives, the most common type of olives in Crete) from Emmanouil Protogerakis Sons

Silver ELEA: Omega, a Koroneiki/Tsounati blend from Kardia Food

Bronze ELEA: Toplou Sitia, a Koroneiki from Biokalliergites Sitias

Honorable Mentions (all but one Koroneiki monovarietals)
Amphorae from AS Messaras

Plora – Prince of Crete and Euripidis Messara PDO from Euripides AE

Cretan Prince from Botzakis

Drop of Gods from Bio Kritika Elaiolada Mon. EPE

Crete Gold PDO Kolymvari from Kreta Food EPE

Kakoulaki from Kyralaki Theonymphi

Extra Partheno Elaiolado Assargiotakis from Assargiotakis Ioannis

Kreta Koumadorakis Olive Noel, a Tsounati from Kreta Koumadorakis Olive Noel

Terra Zakros from Nikolaos Ailamakis

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Gold ELEA: Liokarpi Bio, a Koroneiki from Emmanouil Protogerakis Sons

Silver ELEA: Kardia Tsounati, a Tsounati from Kardia Food

Bronze ELEA: Kardia Koroneiki, a Koroneiki from Kardia Food

Honorable Mentions (all Koroneiki monovarietals):

Terra Creta Organic from Terra Creta

Toplou Sitia Bio from Biokallergites Siteias AE

Evlogia from Biokritika Elaiolada Mon. EPE

Oliviennos from Olivos Gourniezakis Ioannis & Sia EE

Ladi Bio from Tsouderos EPE

For more photos, olive oil news, recipes, and information, including links to articles about the health benefits of olive oil and the websites of award-winning Greek extra virgin olive oils, see this Facebook page: Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil