DeKALB – Bill Hristakos is from a small farming town near Sparta, Greece, where everyone knows each other by their first name.
He moved to the United States when he was 24 and has been in the restaurant business since 1984.
Hristakos owns Ellwood Steak and Fish House, 2219 Sycamore Road in DeKalb, and Bill’s Organic Olive Oil, which is made from fruit grown in his family’s orchard in Greece. The olive oil is imported and used at his restaurant and also can be purchased at the DeKalb and Sycamore farmers markets, which begin this week.
The Sycamore Farmers Market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays in the parking lot at the corner of Sacramento and State streets and the DeKalb Farmers Market runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays in Van Buer Plaza at the corner of North Second and Locust streets.
Hristakos met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss his olive oil and farmers markets.
Milton: Tell me about your olive orchard.
Hristakos: The olive orchard with about 3,000 trees belonged to my parents, my family, for generations. My parents are no longer alive, they died when they were 96. So it’s true, olive oil does do wonders. When they passed on, I had to make a decision, to sell or keep the orchard. I sold some trees and kept about 1,800. I return to Greece for the month of November for the harvest and creation of the olive oil, then bring it back here. I use the olive oil in my restaurant and sell it at local farmers markets.
Milton: How do you make olive oil?
Hristakos: In November, when the olives are harvested, I take them to the co-op where the olives are washed and they take away the leaves. The olives are then crushed by a machine for 15 minutes to an hour. Then they go into another machine that spins and separates the oil from the crushed olives. Pomace oil can be created if the olives are pressed a second time.
Milton: What makes your olive oil different from others?
Hristakos: What makes my olive oil unique is that once the olives are harvested, within five hours, they are pressed. That keeps the oil’s acidity very low. Extra virgin olive oil is 0.8% acidity or below. This year, my olive oil’s acidity is 0.16%.
Milton: Why do you grow olives?
Hristakos: It’s my hobby, something fun and a tradition in my family. People are consuming more and more olive oil. There is a lot of demand for it. Olive oil never spoils, but the color and flavor lasts two to three years. People are using it for their skin, their hair, therapeutic reasons. It’s nice in food, even just putting some on a fresh salad.
Milton: How would you recommend eating olive oil?
Hristakos: My olive oil has a fresh, peppery taste. You can eat it plain with bread or with some balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese. When cooking, start with a little bit and pour more at the end. If you add too much olive oil at first and are cooking with high temperatures, you can lose some of the flavors.
Milton: Will you sell your olive oil at farmers markets this year?
Hristakos: I will be at both the DeKalb and Sycamore farmers markets this year, selling my olive oil and giving out samples. You can also purchase the olive oil at my restaurant. The olive oil costs $12 a bottle or two for $20. I love farmers markets because of the atmosphere. People talk, ask questions. It’s very social. People get together and shop local. They see each other, have a good time and find quality things to buy for their dinner table.
Milton: How long have you been in DeKalb and how is it different from Greece?
Hristakos: I’ve been in DeKalb for four years. In Greece, there’s scenery and gorgeous islands full of olive and orange trees. In DeKalb, the farms have their own beauty, with the rows of corn and red barns. Each area has its own beauty.