St. Augustine’s distinction as oldest U.S. city combined with an extensive heritage featuring Ponce de Leon‘s quest for perpetual youth just happens to closely parallel Greece’s reverence of top quality olive oil. Ancient Greeks believed that olive oil, particularly when infused with flowers and herbs, promoted a long healthy life. Even medicine and cosmetics were developed using olive oil as a base. Turns out they were onto something since countless studies now point out the health benefits of olive oil including its rich monounsaturated fat content preventing heart disease.
George Chryssaidis, owner of several Greek restaurants in St. Augustine including Cafe Alcazar and Athena Café, brought his family’s treasured olive oil to town from Frixa, Greece in 2007. George’s business partner and friend Yeorgios Kostopoulos oversees the entire production from field to bottle. Olives are harvested by hand from November – January and cold pressed using traditional equipment. Although Frixa’s limited production isn’t carried by large importers, it is sold in area specialty food stores and select local restaurants via Royal Beverages, a small Jacksonville FL distributor. Frixa is only made with first press olives and best savored with warm homemade bread like Focaccia cubes for dipping. In 2007, Frixa olive oil’s existence was threatened by devastating fires which destroyed nearly 50% of the olive trees in the tiny hamlet of Frixa, Greece. Remarkably, 95% of the olive trees regrew and now continue producing olives that consistently rival previous harvests.
True to its extra virgin grade, Frixa has an extremely delicate flavor with a slightly fruity aroma making it ideal for salad dressing, grilled fish, pasta and vegetables. And happily for those of us who aren’t in Saint Augustine on a regular basis, Frixa can now be purchased online for cooking at home. To get you started, here is a recipe showcasing the fine simplicity of Frixa courtesy of George Chryssaidis:
Athena Cafe’s Spanikopita (makes 12 triangle pies)
2 lbs. crumbled feta cheese
1 Cup Frixa olive oil
3 Tblsp dried dill
1.5 Tsp dried oregano
10 lb. chopped spinach
2 large eggs
2 boxes frozen phyllo pastry dough
Saute onion in olive oil until brown and caramelized. In separate pot, boil spinach and drain well until there is no liquid left in the spinach. Transfer spinach to large mixing bowl and cool. Add all ingredients to spinach, making sure that the mixture is well blended before rolling in pastry.
Using 2 sheets of phyllo pastry for each spanikopita pie, divide spinach mixture into 12 equal portions. Fill the double sheets with mixture, placing in center and double/fold pastry over. Brush top lightly with olive oil. Begin to fold over into triangle, doubling over itself until phyllo is totally encasing the mixture. Finish all 12 pies and place on lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush top lightly with Frixa olive oil. Bake 350 for 30 minutes until nicely browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.
photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky and Athena Cafe