For those of us with European heritage – especially Southern European – there’s an enduring fantasy: traveling back to the old country, discovering some family plot, getting back in touch with the land. Making wine. Or cheese. Or oil. Finding yourself, while shedding the shackles of modern life. It’s fun to think about.
For a distinct few, that dream is closer to reality. I recently met Penelope Lagakos Constantinidi and her husband Andrei at a local farmers market; they were selling their family extra virgin olive oil, a Greek brand called Kastania. And when I say family, I mean family. The groves sit in a small village in the Mani peninsula – the middle outcropping of the Southern Peleponnese – and are owned and maintained by her cousin, Kostas Arfanis. The brand was created by another cousin, Patty Lagakos Huffman, and is maintained and run by a variety of relatives in the New York and Philadelphia region, all with connections back to this small town in Mani.
It’s also worth noting that Mani EVOO – which is dominated by Koroneiki olives – is often hailed as among the very finest in Greece, yet because it is produced mostly by small farmers with little budget for marketing or distribution, it is difficult to find outside the region. As such, Kastania is a rare opportunity to try such a heralded oil stateside.
The olives are harvested on the riper side, while on their way to turning black, resulting in a delicate, fruity oil, redolent of berries and tropical fruit, with a hint of butter. There’s a tingly kick on the back end, like any good oil will have, but it’s not overpowering, resulting in a versatile, everyday extra virgin that can be used in almost any preparation.
This oil is available for purchase at a wide variety of specialty stores and farmers markets across the Mid-Atlantic, as well as online via their website.