From Greece to Baltimore- How Olive Oil Came to Be Local
In the red volcanic soil off the foothills of Mt. Taygetos in southern Greece, the Dimitri Giannakos family have been growing olives for over 200 years. 12 years ago, Dimitri and his stepfather began Greek Superfoods and Dimitri's Olive Oil, splitting their time between their family farms just south of Sparta and Baltimore, Maryland.
Not far from the wild olive trees their family first collected and then cultivated in 1887, Dimitri and his step father's family now own 5 small olive farms just north of the southern Mediterranean coast. Their farms are about 8 to 10 miles apart, each varying in size- up to 60 acres. They have a total of 5,000 olive trees in production currently. Although olive trees will produce nearly indefinitely, the family takes care to plant new trees each year to sustain their businesses growth. This is important because each tree takes 6 to 8 years to produce a full crop. Last year they planted over 1,000 trees. This year they hope to plant another 500 in August.
Dimitri says his favorite part is going to the olive press while they make the oil. "I like picking the olives- the long days and manual labor- but my favorite is just taking a piece of bread and dipping it in the oil right as it come out of the press," he elaborates. The family travels back to the farm in Greece each November to January or February each year for the harvest.
After the olives are picked, Dimitri and his family take the harvest to a privately owned farmer's co-op nearby, where the olives are pressed for their oil, packed, and labeled. Dimitri says they prefer a private farmer owned co-op, rather than the more standard state owned press, because it produces a higher quality oil.
Once the oil is shipped back to the states, Dimitri and his family return with it to Baltimore, where they work the rest of the year, selling, infusing, and creating with the olive oil and other goods they bring back each year. Their store is a treasure trove of good food, from Greek honey, to herbs, to stuffed olives, and infusions of all flavors and colors. The balsamic vinegar Dimitri carries is produced by farms in southern Greece. It is all natural with no preservatives or sugars. The olives Dimitri sells are imported from neighboring olive farms, and are marinated, seasoned, roasted, and stuffed in the Biddle Street shop. Dimitri says, "everything we use is from home. We choose to work with farms we know and ingredients we know are the highest quality."
Dimitri's own family farms are not certified Organic, but follow organic practices. They are never sprayed, and are only treated with Organic chicken manure fertilizer from a family friends' farm nearby. The family employees several full time farmers to keep the farms neat, but mostly to prune trees and water them, fending off droughts through hot Mediterranean summers.
If you haven't tried Dimitri's olive oil or balsamic vinegar, I can't recommend either highly enough. I've heard more than one customer call his vinegar "life changing." One taste of the olive oil transports the eater right to the evergreen hills of Greece with a salty Mediterranean breeze blowing. In fact, you can even visit the farm and help with the harvest! Each year, the family brings 10-15 customers with for a tour of the farm and an immersive experience living in the village and exploring the Greek countryside.
In the meantime, there's nothing compared to trying some of these Greek super foods for yourself! You can find a selection of vinegar, olives, and oil in our store or at our markets.
All photo credits Greek Super Foods