Never know who you might meet on a cruise ship. Since seats aren’t assigned in the Astoria dining room, I was invited to sit next to a woman at dinner one evening.
After introducing ourselves, I reached for the olive oil and fresh bread before our dinner menus arrived. The olive oil is delicious and I have been starting every dining room meal enjoying that tasty oil with the unusual name – ACAIA.
The woman sitting next to me, Anita Bistere, asked how I liked the olive oil. It was probably obvious because I had already eaten most of a roll dipped in it.
“It’s fantastic,” I told her.
Thank goodness, that was the truth.
The woman sitting next to me made that olive oil.
Her family did, actually, from Kolovi olives grown on the Greek island of Lesvos. Anita also is director of Global Cruise Lines Ltd. and has a home in Greece.
As for that strange olive oil name, Anita explained that to me.
“It is named for my children and my sister-in-law’s children,” Anita said. The ACAIA initials are for Alexia, Constantine, Auxios, Ivars and Alkeos.
“Alexia, Constantine and Ivars are my children,” she said.
Family olive oil business
Established in 2013 as the family business Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises, the olive oil already has a long list of honors. Gold awards from olive oil competitions in London, New York and Greece. Silver awards from competitions in Los Angeles and Cannes. Other awards from Brussels, Canada and France.
The secret to the great taste, Anita said, “is selecting the best olives and pressing them the same day.”
Lesvos, Greece’s third largest island, has a long history of olive oil production that dates back to prehistoric times. With wide expanses of olive trees covering nearly 80 percent of its arable land, it has by far the largest number of olive trees per capita in the world.
The Kolovi olive tree grows largely on mountainous rocky terrain in Lesvos which precludes watering. That results in the formation of a wide root system that enables the transfer of nutrients from the soil to the olive fruit, Anita said.
Many of the trees are accessible only by donkey or on foot and require harvesting of the olives by hand, aided by portable mechanic pickers.
“We don’t add fertilizer or pesticides which makes our olives more natural, healthier and more nutritious,” Anita said.
Kolovi olives are harvested in the late fall each year when they begin to ripen, just starting to turn black from green. The greener the olive when harvested, the higher the antioxidants, but the greater the bitterness. When olives turn black, the antioxidants decrease and the bitterness is reduced.
“It’s important to harvest the olives at the right time of ripening so you get the most nutritional benefits and the best taste,” Anita said.
After harvesting, the olives are transported within hours to the olive mill. Since vehicles can’t cover the terrain, harvested olives are loaded in sacks onto donkeys or mules for transport to the mills. The olives are quickly cleaned and milled under strict controls and the oil is stored in stainless steel containers.
“We do this process quickly to make the best possible olive oil,” Anita said.
I do agree that it is excellent and bought some olive oil from the ship’s gift shop – $9 for a large bottle that would cost me more than that from my hometown supermarket. And I had the fun experience of attending an Astoria cooking class that featured ACAIA Olive Oil.
Olive oil cooking class
At the cooking class, Astoria Executive Chef Glenn prepared two dishes using ACAIA Olive Oil – one with chicken and one with shrimp. He shared samples for us to taste and copies of the recipes to take home. I’m going to share the shrimp recipe because I liked it best.
“The ACAIA Olive Oil is what helps make it so good,” Glenn explained. “Olive oil is better for you than butter and it has no aftertaste.”
Glenn also shared that he and the kitchen staff not only prepare food for the 450 Astoria passengers but also for the crew. “We have 29 different nationalities of crew on the ship so that can be quite challenging,” he said.
Food preparation on the ship begins early in the morning and lasts until late at night, Glenn added. “Most people wake up to the smell of coffee. I wake up to the smell of food.”
Food served aboard the Astoria is a labor of love, Glenn said. “The love that we get from the passengers, we put into the dishes we make and that love goes back to our passengers in the food we share.”
Greek Shrimp Saganaki
12 medium prawns
4 ripe juicy tomatoes, finely chopped
I red onion, finely chopped
Hot chili pepper, according to preference
2 spring onions, sliced (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
¼ cup Greek Ouzo
2 tablespoons fresh dill or parsley, chopped.
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sweet paprika (optional)
Extra Virgin ACAIA Olive Oil
Strain small cubed tomatoes in a colander so no excess water is added to sauce. Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add chopped onion and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in chopped garlic, chili peppers and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for another 1 minute.
Add chopped tomatoes, cover and bring to boil, simmer until sauce thickens. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat large saucepan over medium heat, add 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add shrimp, sauce for 1 minute on each side and deglaze with Ouzo. Add sauce to shrimp and stir.
Cover shrimp with crumbled feta cheese, cover until feta melts slightly. To serve, garnish with chapped parsley or dill and serve while still hot. Serves 6.
For more information about ACAIA Olive Oil: Visit www.hae-gr.com
Cover photo: The ACAIA name has special significance, credit Jackie Sheckler Finch
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