Article by Nicole Visschedyk,
Photo by Peter J. Thompson,
If you think the new Olive and Olive Oil shop is the ultimate in niche shopping, consider this: Not only is every item in the store olive-based, but it all comes from one small village in Northern Turkey.
Mehmet Uzel, who opened Toronto’s first olive-only store just off the Danforth in Riverdale a month ago, imports his product from his hometown, a small village just outside the port town of Gemlick, Turkey.
His family has been cultivating and curing olives on the steep Turkish hills in the traditional way for generations.
“As a kid big guys came to my family village to buy our olives to sell them for more money in Europe.” said Mr. Uzel. “I thought, I can do that.”
So began a journey that brought the young man to the United States and then to Canada. After seven years of saving money working in construction Mr. Uzel is finally realizing his dream of selling his family’s olives internationally.
“It’s always been on my mind to come to Canada because it’s an international country,” he said. “From Canada I can sell my olives all over the world.”
From behind the counter at 585 Jones Ave., Mr. Uzel sells the specially seasoned olives with lemons, basil and other spices. The recipes are the ones he grew up on as a child.
“We ate olives all the time, we used to eat them about 30 different ways. We ate them for breakfast, they were always on the table,” said Mr. Uzel. “ I love olives.”
Olives grow in dry arid climates, often on steep slopes. Mr. Uzel’s extended family works year around harvesting and curing.
When first picked the olives are not edible, and the complex method for fermenting the small fruits has not changes for centuries. Come September, harvest time, the family works day and night. “Harvest time is always a happy time.” Said Mr. Uzel, who remembers days filled with hard work, dancing and singing.
The black olives are ripened on the trees, with the best tasting ones harvested from the top of the trees, he explained. “They are picked by hand from the slopped plantations using long ladders.”
His olives are all certified organic and and fermented in large stone vats. “The vats are much better then plastic barrels used in factories,” insisted Mr. Uzel, gesturing with his arms to describe a vat the size of a small room.
“The tank is salted to allow fermentation and fresh water is added regularly.”
Once the fermentation is complete the olives are packaged and Mr. Uzel has them shipped to Toronto.
What does Mr. Uzel mother think of her family recipe being sold in internationally? “She just laughs,” he said.
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