Aromatic plants are used all the world for cooking. One thing we tend to forget is: true, you can find them anywehere, even at your local supermarket, but not everything you find really adds true flavor to your recipes.
The best aromatic plants are the ones you get directly from the land, or directly from the person who cultivates them. This is the idea behind Daphnis and Chloe, a Greek herb company launched in 2013. The concept is easy: create a link between authentic Mediterranean producers and customers worldwide, and avoid big scale production and distribution. Greece’s micro-climate is ideal when it comes to biodiversity: 20% of its plants are endemic, which means they can’t be found anywhere else. According to researchers, Greek oregano has 30 times more essential oils than any other kind, especially from the ones you find in commerce: in other words, it tastes better.
Born and raised in Greece, Evangelia Koutsovoulou is the founder of Daphnis and Chloe (as well as being a FineDiningLovers.com contributor from the beginning): we interviewed her about her very personal online gourmet-shopping project.
How and when did the idea of the Daphnis and Chloe project come to you?
It’s hard to tell exactly. We first discussed it at a Christmas table, when I was living in Italy. I remember mentioning to my friends – who had often tasted the wild thyme and oregano that I’d bring from my native Greece – about my idea to create a company that would bring to city cooks the amazing herbs you usually get by travel. They all loved the concept and encouraged me to continue. This was in December of 2011: I launched Daphnis and Chloe about a year and a half later.
What is available to shop on the site?
Through the e-shop one can order our selection of rare-to-find Mediterranean herbs and infusions, and also a series of edited herb sets. We also run a recipe blog, full of cooking tips and ideas for informal home cooks who –like us- enjoy giving a twist to their everyday meals.
How do you manage their production?
We mainly work with family farms that cultivate local varieties of herbs where they perform better. We do so to ensure a sustainable result and a high standard quality. There’s lots of “mapping” involved in the scouting process, and in some cases we source plants from experienced gatherers. We select our varieties carefully, and we are particularly interested to the yet unexplored herbal richness of Greece. Last month, for example, in collaboration with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, we started a series of molecular analyses of local culinary herbs that have never been cultivated before. The selected varieties will be trusted to our farmers and will become part of our first experimental plantations. Crops apart, we follow an artisanal procedure with a “pinch” of food technology: after being handpicked, the herbs are dried carefully, quality-checked, pest-controlled and confectioned in a laboratory. After that they arrive to our warehouse and stocked before departing for their final destination: people’s kitchens.
Is there anything new you discovered about Greece, your homeland?
Discoveries are what I enjoy the most about this job, and they occur quite often. Other than plants, I love discovering new places: unspoiled, forgotten, fascinating parts of my country that I have never visited before. Greece is mostly known for its popular islands, but it’s surprising how much wilderness it reserves if you decide to explore hidden trails.
Which is the most popular product?
Our oreganos (from Mount Taygetus, Cephalonia and Amorgos ) and mint.
Which herb do you think is often underestimated?
I’d say that Mediterranean herbs are generally underestimated. This is because most home cooks don’t have access to quality herbs. They never had the chance to experience the aromatic properties and flavors of a very good oregano. So the point is, how can you appreciate something you have never tasted? The same happens with eggs, tomatoes and so on, right?
The herb or spice you can’t live without?
In my cooking, I use a lot of herbs and spices. I love making blends at home, experimenting. The Mediterranean herbs that I feel more attached to are the thyme flowers of the thymus capitatus variety which grows by the sea, and our oregano onites from the cycladic island of Amorgos. Probably I like them so much because these are the two herbs that made me want to launch Daphnis and Chloe.
The foodies in Milan during the Design Week can enjoy Daphne and Chloe's selection of handpicked herbal infusions at George Sowden's showroom (corso di Porta Nuova 46/B), where it will be served a custom blend made with a selection of wild Mediterranean herbs, at Bitossi's Pink Bar in Brera, serving a second blend and a bruschetta with herbs. At the Project B Gallery (via Maroncelli 7, Milan), Evangelia will prepare a "magic potion" inspired by the spells of Circe (the Homeric godess of magic) that will be served during the Arabeschi di Latte event.