Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Greekmobile

If you could put Modern Greece on wheels, this would be it. Coffee. Souvlaki. Cigarettes. The anthropologist Michael Herzfeld once ironically described Greece as 'a tawdry fragment of the mysterious East,' but it's the things we learnt from Turkey that made us who we are now. A succulent kebab doused in tzatziki and wrapped in soft doughy pitta; Turkish- sorry, Greek coffee and a strong cigarette made of Thracian tobacco; no wonder kefi- an untranslatable word for both joy and contentment- is shared between us and our rivals-cum-exes over the Aegean.

First Post...

My name's Aris. I'm 28 years old, and a Londoner of Corfiot origin.

Until the recession hit, I was a TV researcher, thinking up ideas for documentaries and turning them into the finished, onscreen product. Oh, and I also occasionally write articles for newspapers and magazines.

But now I'm taking the biggest gamble of my life. I'm returning to my Greek roots, living the peasant lifestyle that my family were glad to shrug off decades ago. With my fiancee Katie, I'll be growing my own food, keeping animals, turning a derelict ancient house into a family home and producing the first ever commercially available Corfiot olive oil.

It's a romantic dream, justified by a kernel of hard business sense. Corfu's 6 million olive trees produce 3% of the world's olive oil, but it's impossible to buy outside of the Ionian. Well, that's not entirely true. Big producers buy Corfiot oil at rock-bottom rates, and market it as Italian. That's how Italy exports three times as much oil as it produces, and sells it with Northern European fantasies of happy Tuscan peasants.

We're going to change all that. If you've ever seen Corfiot olive groves, then you've seen our majestic 400-year-old trees, but until now, you may never have had the chance to taste it. My family moved to Northwest Corfu 500 years ago. We've been making exceptional extra-virgin olive oil for 400 years. Thick, rich oil that tastes utterly unlike the insipid yellow oil you're used to. Now, for the first time, we're going to sell it in the UK.

It's going to be a steep learning curve. We're going to work with local farmers to sell their oil at a fair price, cutting out the multinational middlemen. We're going to save the Corfiot olive industry, at a time when local farmers are grubbing up their ancient trees to fuel Italian pizza ovens. We're going to work hard to preserve the unique ecosystem of northern Corfu, cutting out pesticides and promoting medieval farming methods that EU subsidies have been unwittingly eradicating.

Along the way, we're going to have to learn Greek, win the trust of local farming families, and turn a crumbling wreck into a family home that's also a cutting-edge eco-friendly olive press.

I hope you'll enjoy our adventure.