Sometimes life is a series of happy accidents – serendipity, or whatever you like to call it. Out of absolutely nowhere comes a happenstance, and there you go …. suddenly you realise that the world is a very small place. That was exactly how an unplanned, but hugely memorable, meal in the foothills of Mount Parnassus led me to a business estate, in the outskirts of Sheffield last Monday. You will remember my visit to Roumeli, back in November. There was a lot of food that weekend, culminating in a very long Sunday lunch at the excellent Taverna Yialas and an encounter with the dynamic chef, Antonis Theodorou. The chat about food, some stunning new Greek producers and his exciting aronia cultivation, somehow led to his mention of a new e-deli in England, and what do you know, in Sheffield – my home town.
So that is how, on a truly grey, damp and dreary morning, I arrived at the UK base of Amalthea Deli. The welcoming sign, ‘We’re Open’, on the door told me everything I needed to know about this fledgeling but nonetheless vibrant e business. After handshakes and introductions, Eva and Yannis explained how they had arrived in this unlikely setting.
I think it’s fair to say that, over the last few years, their choices have been influenced by the economic situation in Greece. They are both graduates, with a combined expertise in international trade and mass media. Driven by a desire to get on with life, they decided to pursue post-grad studies in Sheffield and at first that was enough. But, it has to be said that these two have an eye for developing an opportunity and the cogs started to whirr.
I would be the first to say that Sheffield has a lot to offer – more than many would ever expect. I can also safely say that, when it comes to getting your hands on bona fide Greek food products …well, things here have been tricky. There are the usual bits in the supermarkets – thank goodness, you don’t have to spend a day straining yoghourt to make tzatziki anymore ! And reasonable feta, kalamata olives and filo pastry are available just about everywhere. Olive oil is no longer for medicinal purposes only and aubergines have ceased to be exotic. But there just hasn’t been a lot to stimulate the culinary imagination – that is until now. Yannis and Eva quickly picked up on the gap in the market and a few months ago their e-deli went live.
Despite the cold outside, there is a glow in this warehouse in Sheffield. Over a cup of chamomile tea, Eva enthuses about cotton blossom honey, roasted olives, vegetable pastes, chilli sauces and, of course, Greek cuisine. Here there is a total dedication to top quality Greek produce – it’s in her soul. Eva comes from Alexandroupoli, one of the most northern cities of Greece, and both her parents are involved in food production and agriculture. Yannis is a northerner too – no wonder they both ended up in Yorkshire. He comes from Kavala, in the north of Greece, and that’s where the Greek end of the Amalthea team is based. His expertise in logistics and his forensic eye to detail means that this business runs like clockwork. He is quietly passionate about giving Greek producers a platform – and with total conviction that export is a viable and essential route out of the national crisis.
So, with lots of new Greek goodies in hand, I have spent the last week experimenting. First of all, I am so pleased to have found a source for some of my favourite things – Cretan barley rusks for ‘dakos’ and a new obsession, sepia orzo from the excellent producer ‘Dolopia’. I have been experimenting with a recipe for ‘kritharotto’. If you are not totally up to speed with what that is, I will explain. Orzo is the rice-shaped pasta that, in Greece, is known as kritharáki – I’m guessing that you all know what risotto is… So in ‘kritharotto’ you have a dish that uses orzo instead of arborio rice. This black and white pasta is truly amazing – and seafood kritharotto is perfection.Their roasted olives are a true delight – I never expected to eat, or even meet a roasted olive. Despite the chilli, the flavour is intensely olivey – love them.
The intriguing, ‘Mousaka in a Jar’ is a must – somehow it captures the rich palate-hugging flavour of the Greek national dish but, yes, in a jar.It’s a great, smoother alternative to ketchup or tortilla dipping sauce. I love the wry humour of the branding as well – especially as it comes from the organisation ‘Wise Greece’ – a charity that supports the homeless. http://www.en.wisegreece.com
The savoury stunner for me was the ‘Flaming Red Pepper Dip’, definitely not for the faint-hearted but undoubtedly everything spice-fiends could ever hope for. It is the perfect compliment to any grilled meat – be warned though, flaming it certainly is.
I was totally beguiled by the cherry and bitter almond spoon sweet – the preserved fruit is slightly candied and perfect as a yoghourt topper or alongside a good vanilla ice cream. The almond back notes are so reminiscent of amaretto, certainly one of these cherries would not be out of place in a cocktail.
And don’t start me on the bergamot marmalade. Made with 85% fruit, that is the way to bring a bit of fragrant, hellenic sunshine to your winter-morning blues. With a range of over 170 product lines, and with more to come, there is plenty to choose from.
Amalthea Deli’s first months of business have been very good, with some of their best customers coming from London and Cardiff – the majority being British, rather than Greek ex-pats. Amalthea has had to adapt to some very English concepts, Eva admitting that she had to google the word ‘hamper’ when they were asked to supply one at Christmas. Needless to say, they have a large variety of them now! And there lots of plans for the next few months, including a pop-up shop at Sheffield Hallam University, a stall at Sheffield Food Festival, farmers’ markets and tastings at various venues in the city. They are most excited about developing new, Amalthea exclusive products back in Greece. Yannis and Eva epitomise everything that Greece needs – they are passionate, determined and practical. They have a vision of what they can do, not just for themselves, but for their country too. So,’Καλή επιτυχία παιδιά’ and a big bit of Yorkshire luck too.
Find Amalthea Deli on line at http://amaltheadeli.co.uk
Stockists : PorterBrook Deli, 354 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, S11 8ZP
Barra Organics, 355 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8VP
Alyssum Café Bistro, 76 Barber Road, Sheffield, S10 1EE
Featured Products :
Orzo with sepia – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/orzo-with-seafood-mix/
Roasted Olives – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/roasted-natural-amfissis-olives-with-red-chilli-pepper/
‘Mousaka in a Jar’ – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/moussaka-in-a-jar-100g/
Flaming red pepper paste – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/flaming-red-pepper-spread/
Preserved Black Cherries – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/traditional-greek-spoon-sweet-with-black-cherry-bitter-almond-honey/
Bergamot Marmalade – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/pure-extra-bergamot-marmalade-85-fruit-250g/