So, we’ve had several questions this year about what we do, how we do it, why we do it, and how this whole, crazy, olive oil thing started. So, for our new (and old!) friends, we thought that we’d put together a little FAQ so that everyone could get some decent answers to their great questions. These answers pertain to origins, ideals, shipping, delivery, pick-up, all of it! If you’d like to see this stuff on video, Tracy Briggs and Derek Fletcher made an award-winning documentary about this project last year that you can watch right here!
How did this whole extra-virgin olive oil adventure start?
The Greek gentleman who farms our olives and presses our olive oil, Mr. Eugene Ladopoulos, is the husband of my PhD dissertation advisor, Professor Olga Palagia, at the University of Athens. I met Eugene in 1998, during the first year he was bottling his olive oil. In fact, I was the graduate-student-grunt-serf who helped hand-label the first bottles ever to come to America! It was at that time that he and I discussed bringing his extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) here to the U.S., specifically here to Fargo/Moorhead. It was just an idea then, of course . . . .
When did you import your first pallets of olive oil?
Our first pallet came in 2006, over fifteen years ago. (Wow! That’s a long time!) Anyway, I worked on that project with Tony and Sarah Nasello when they were running Sarello’s here in Moorhead. We brought over less than a single pallet. It was more like a half-pallet. And we couldn’t sell it! It was such good stuff and we just couldn’t move it! In the end, Tony and Sarah graciously bought all my leftover inventory to use in the restaurant—they loved the stuff. But, seriously, if they hadn’t done that, we might never have been able to continue.
I have friends who love to cook—how do they get in on this order?
Easy! If you know someone who you think would love what we do, then by all means send them my email – firstname.lastname@example.org, or my number: +1.701.866.8660, and we’ll add them to our mailing list. We now have distribution points in Colorado (Aurora/Denver, Steamboat Springs), Illinois (Chicago), Kansas (Witchita), Massachusetts (Boston), Michigan (Grand Rapids), Minnesota (Alexandria, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Duluth, East Grand Forks, Fargo-Moorhead, Luverne, MSP & Rochester), North Dakota (Bismarck, Fargo Moorhead, Grand Forks), South Dakota (Sioux Falls), Tennessee (Knoxville), Texas (Austin, College Station, Houston & Taylor) and Wisconsin (Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee & Superior). And, of course, we offer FedEx shipping.
When I order a case from you, what am I getting, exactly?
Great question! When you order one case from us, you're getting 12 bottles with each bottle holding 0.5 liters (16.907 fluid oz.) of liquid gold.
Can I get this liquid gold by the bottle?
You can! But not from me. We only sell wholesale, by the case. But you can certainly go in on a case and split it with some friends. Lots of folks do that. Alternatively, you can always go to BernBaum’s in Fargo, the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, 4e Winery in Mapleton, ND, Blackboard in Vergas, MN, Aspen Botanicals in Steamboat Springs, CO, or Good Strangers in Taylor, TX and pick up a single bottle or two. These great places sell it retail and they usually have a bit left when we’re running dry. Your local distribution point leader will also (almost always) have single bottles for sale!
Can I get it every month?
You can! But not from me. (See the paragraph above for our local retailers.) It's important to remember that this stuff is a seasonal product. If you want the freshest, best stuff, then you have to wait for when the olives are harvested, when they’re pressed, when the oil’s settled, and when it’s ready to bottle. That’s late summer/early fall, every year. The shelf life is a solid 4-5 years in a cool, dark place, so you can always stock up. (Our four-year-old stuff tastes 100x better than the “fresh” stuff on the grocery store shelves anyway!) But we only order it when it’s at its best, once a year. We’ve talked about bringing on another producer—one of my best friends from graduate school married a Greek guy and they have trees near Corinth, amazing stuff, and we’ve also got some great friends in Messolonghi who make some great oil—but that’s probably several years away. All that said, you can always buy more from our regional partners (see above) or from your local distribution point leader.
I’m sold! I’ll be ordering! But how long does it take for my order to arrive?
Once our order closes at the end of August, our oil will be bottled and shipped. Our shipment usually arrives before the middle of November. We always update all our customers every step of the way. Once our shipment arrives, cases will go out for delivery and for local pickup. Again, you’ll get a notification with all necessary details and directions.
When I hold my oil up to light, it looks cloudy. And my older oil has sediment at the bottom of the bottle. What is this?
Our oil is bottled unfiltered. Cloudy oil is a sign of organic purity and quality. (You’ll never see cloudy oil on your grocery store shelf in the U.S.) Like all natural products, this haze is entirely normal, totally safe, and 100% good for you.
Do you offer local pickup?
Yes, indeed! As noted above, we have multiple pick-up spots, throughout the U.S.:
In Colorado, we have a pickup spot in: Denver/Aurora and Steamboat Springs.
In Illinois, we have a pickup spot in: Chicago.
In Kansas, we have a pickup spot in: Wichita.
In Michigan, we have a pickup spot in: Grand Rapids.
In Minnesota, we have pickup spots in: Alexandria, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Duluth, Luverne, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Moorhead, and Rochester.
In Nebraska, we have a pickup spot in Lincoln.
In North and South Dakota, we have pickup spots in: Bismarck, Grand Forks, and Sioux Falls.
In Tennessee, we have a pickup spot in: Knoxville.
In Texas, we have pickup spots in: Austin, College Station, Houston, and Taylor.
In Wisconsin, we have a pickup spot in: Milwaukee.
Do you offer international shipping?
We can ship to Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, but it’s expensive. Other international shipping is prohibitively expensive, but please do reach out to me at email@example.com to talk details.
Do you still offer those awesome, huge tins?
Is this really a “farm-to-table” kind of thing? Or is that just marketing nonsense?
Haha! Nope, it’s the real deal. This oil is bottled in Mistra by the family that owns and farms the olive trees. Once the olives have been harvested, they’re pressed and the oil is allowed to settle. Once our annual order period closes, Eugene and Giannis [Eugene’s nephew] bottle the oil, prepare the pallets, and drive the pallets to the port of Piraeus near Athens for shipping. (Remember how the labels on our bottles always used to look kind of “off-center?” It’s because up until two years ago, all the labels were put on the bottles by hand!) So, yeah. This is real—as real as it gets. No middle-men, no “bundlers,” no “co-ops,” no “conglomerates.” Just a farmer, his oil, and our customers. As for my role, I’m the importer, the wholesaler, and the retailer, all at once. This setup allows us to pay Eugene more and to charge our customers less. By keeping it real and avoiding all unnecessary clutter, everyone wins. And we can bring in the best quality oil in the U.S.
But what really makes this oil different?
Good question. Eugene has an old-school, regenerative outlook toward his orchard, his olive trees, and his olive oil. There are no human inputs. Wild boars plow the soil and provide the fertilizer. There’s no artificial irrigation—you can’t find a hose on the farm. Wild oaks and local flowers live amongst the olive trees. Humans trim and harvest and (very occasionally) plow, and that’s it. What this means is that there’re no “industrial controls” on Mr. Ladopoulos’s olive oil or how it tastes. Much like wine, every year our olive oil is entirely different. This year 2022, for example, the oil is very smooth and mild, with a touch of pepper under floral notes. Last year, it was positively spicy! Of course, the acidity is always very, very low. When you compare these kind of processes to those that produce the oil typically found in American stores—well, it’s just apples and oranges. This is pure, regenerative, single-producer, cold-pressed, unfiltered, gravity-settled, extra-virgin gold from the heart of the Peloponnese. I’ve seen bottles of similar quality oil being sold for $45 dollars a bottle—in Greece. We sell it at wholesale for less than $15 a bottle here in the U.S. Deep quality and value are our primary differentiators. Indeed, in the fall of 2022, I got a bottle of amazing oil from Crete from a friend. Here are the tabulated results of the comparison that we ran:
What's up with your old-school labels? Why not just have some swanky branding to go with your swanky oil? Don't you want the cool kids’ money?
Hahaha! Great question. (Indeed, this question was even more "interesting" when Eugene was putting his labels on by hand and stamping the bottle number and harvest date on every single bottle . . . by hand.)
Anyway, here’s one smarty-pants answer: "We've decided to stick with Eugene's old-school style and his old-school design as a kind of intentional reaction to the last seventy years of branding frenzy and marketing addiction. Finding a designer to come up with a hip, minimal mark is easy as pie. Indeed, there's nothing easier; it takes no work, it takes no time, it takes almost nothing. (In fact, when you think about it, that's all there is now: Sleek bottle, smooth label, quadruple the price because it looks schmancy, call done.) But what if we just said, 'Our brand is the subversion of contemporary branding?' Pretty cool, right?" That right here is the hipster answer.
The truth is far simpler. Eugene loves his bottles, his labels, and his emperors. And so do we. More to the point, this is what Eugene and his family offer us and our communities. Why not just honor his vision and his gift and call it good? About ten years ago, this "branding conversation" was an issue very near the center of our conversations. I now see Eugene's old-school packaging as an ideal counterpart to his old-school oil, a reminder of a way of doing things, a way of doing things that's almost entirely gone. Of course, not everyone is going to understand this. That's just fine. Those who do get it are going to get something else – the very best olive oil in the world.
So, what’s this that we’re always hearing about regarding “EVOO fraud?” Is that really a thing?
Alas, yes. Deception in the world of extra-virgin olive oil is rampant; the industry is rife with conmen. If you’re really interested, check out this book by my pal, Tom Mueller. It’s great and it gives the full story. If you’re more scientifically inclined, this 2011 report from the University of California, Davis tells a crazy tale. (It’s bonkers!) In summary, an elite panel of scientists concluded: “Of the five top-selling imported ‘extra virgin’ olive oil brands in the United States, 73 percent of the samples failed the IOC sensory standards for extra-virgin olive oils analyzed by two IOC-accredited sensory panels. The failure rate ranged from a high of 94 percent to a low of 56 percent depending on the brand and the panel.” So, yeah, it’s bad. But, for this project, we’ve never had to worry about it. This is because we go over to the grove every year, we visit the trees with Eugene, we inspect the facilities, we walk the land, and we hang out with the family. And our friends come with us, too. If you care about quality, truth, and the Earth then you want to buy from a family farm. (It doesn’t have to be us, of course! Any single-source EVOO will be 10x better for everyone than the mass-produced junk you get in the grocery stores!) The easiest rules of thumb are these: Know who grows your food. Know who sells your food.
Lots of people like to shop local. Our olive oil isn’t exactly “locally made,” is it? What do you think about this concern?
That’s a great one.
It's super important.
I think there’re two answers.
Answer #1: It’s always best to look for local food. “Think globally/act locally” is a principle that we believe in 100%. Buying local matters. Keeping food transportation and packaging costs down is good for everyone. Supporting local food networks is good for everyone. That said, what should we do about staples that can’t and won’t ever be grown here? That’s a real question; there will always be food products that can’t be produced in the High Plains. In those instances, the concepts of “locally made” or “thinking global/acting local” deserve more careful consideration. In our case, I think that what we’ve “locally made” here is a bridge, a partnership, between two communities: Moorhead, Minnesota and Mistra, Greece. I would say that that bridge itself is a huge part of what we’ve built—and we’ve built it right here. In that sense, this is a local food project with a local food mission. I love this place. Fargo-Moorhead is my home. My grandparents lived in Moorhead for decades, my Mom was a Spud, my parents are both MSUM Dragons, me and my brother and sisters are Cobbers, and I’ve lived here in Moorhead for almost 20 years. This project is a product of those roots. This project was born and raised here. By almost any definition, this is a local project.
Answer #2: I think it’s pretty important that we ask ourselves whether or not the geographical origin of a product is the most important thing that we should be considering when we shop. Aren’t the values, ideals, and relationships that surround a product just as important as where it was made? I think they are. Or, consider the flipside: Are we doing right if we exclude regenerative coffee from our “local” farmer’s market because it was produced by a co-op of women in Panama who most definitely do not live in Fargo-Moorhead? Do we really think that denying them access to our community (and our markets) is “thinking globally?” For me, if “act locally” means we can’t support responsible, organic, or regenerative producers all over the globe, then that slogan is the opposite of “think globally.” To my mind, if a producer is engaged in authentic, responsible, organic and/or regenerative practice, then she’s taking care of our shared home, our shared planet. And that means that we should be taking care of her. One of the best thinkers on this topic is Robyn Wright. For Robyn, “Everywhere is local.” This make a lot of sense to me. For Robyn, “local” is about perspective and principles, not just place. And I think she’s right. Our “local” is always someone else’s “global.” And our “global” is always someone else’s “local.” That’s one of the ideals that governs this project. Indeed, it’s governed our practice for almost twenty years. It’s something we’re proud of. A product can still be authentically farm-to-table, still be authentically “local,” even if that farm is on the other side of our Earth. In our journey to restore and treasure our shared home, our perspective means everything.
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(Or call Peter, anytime, +1.701.866.8660!)