Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

“There are many good olive oils out there, but few that are exceptional, especially at a reasonable price. I tried Azeite Esplendido at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year and was blown away. Sheila Fitzgerald, the importer, impressed me with her passion and knowledge for all things olive oil, from its health benefits to the advantages of small-scale artisanal production. I love the balance this oil has. It’s assertive, with that great peppery spice, not bitter, and low in acidity. I am proud to add Azeite Esplendido to the small curated line of products we carry at Macrina.” 

Leslie

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

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A great extra virgin olive oil is as different from the typical pale yellow stuff sold in supermarkets as pure maple syrup is from Aunt Jemima’s. Good olive oil is alive and peppery, not bitter, and taken straight can make you cough. If you’re accustomed to bland commodity olive oil one spoonful of the real thing will transport you to another gustatory plane where flavor defies known parameters.

That’s sort of what happened when Seattle resident Sheila Fitzgerald was hiking through northern Portugal en route to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in 2012. In the high hills above the Douro Valley, a soaring majestic patchwork of cultivated agriculture and natural, craggy slopes, she found herself in a grove of olive trees. Some had massive trunks, their limbs twisted and magnificent with age. She introduced herself to the property owner, Henrique Cardoso, a fourth-generation farmer, who then introduced her to his olive oil.

fullsizeoutput_3e9a “I knew good olive oil, but I’d never tasted anything like his,” Sheila says. “The golden-green oil had a peppery spiciness to it, no bitterness, and a complexity and balance that I’d never experienced.”

That revelatory moment kicked off Sheila’s four-year journey to become the sole US importer of Henrique’s olive oil. The first challenge was winning Henrique’s trust, persuading him that she would uphold his fierce commitment to quality. Next came an extended process of gaining FDA approval, an involved study of the existing US market, selecting bottles, and designing a label.

Since that first visit, Sheila has been back many times, including at harvest time, which starts in November and goes through January.

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“Henrique picks his olives early and makes Azeite Esplendido from the first harvest,” Sheila says. “That means the olive is picked when they’re very green. Most farmers wait until the olives get plumper. That way they get more oil out of it. But the olive loses flavor as it ripens. My oil has a peppery spiciness to it. That’s indicative of an early harvest. It can bring tears to your eyes, even make you cough. That’s a good thing.”

Harvest is a time of celebration. An autumnal chill in the air, the groves often laced with tendrils of fog, pickers go from tree to tree using long rakes to pull the olives into nets. An old tractor hauls them to the press, no longer one of the picturesque stone mills, but a state-of-the-art stainless steel centrifuge.

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“The olives are washed then ground into a mash before they’re dumped into the centrifuge,” Sheila says. “Henrique continually adjusts the revolutions per second, which changes the oil. He’s always testing it.”

Before the bottling, which is done within twelve hours of pressing, comes the blending. Azeite Esplendido is composed of first cold-pressed oil from four types of olives: Transmontona Verdeal, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, and Madural.

Sheila says, “Henrique guards the percentage of each olive in the blend. It’s the secret to his recipe. Along with picking at the right time, carefully monitoring of the oil extraction, and cultivating the best trees.”

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The Tras-os-Montes region, where the farm is located, is one of the six protected designation of origin (DOP) zones in Portugal. The microclimate and soil make it an ideal place for olive trees. On Henrique’s farm, the trees are widely spaced to allow each tree plenty of sun and wind and rain. Some of the trees are five to six hundred years old. These are called the mother trees. Around their base workers mound extra dirt. When new shoots come up they are transplanted, hence the name mother tree. The trees are not irrigated.

Sheila says, “Henrique told me doesn’t want to babysit his trees. It’s survival of the fittest. If it can’t grow there, he doesn’t want it.”

While Italy’s olive trees suffered through a terrible year in 2016 that halved production, Henrique’s groves fared well.

“Olive oil is a live product. It changes over time,” Sheila says. “It’s dependent on fluctuations in the weather. The new harvest is so bright green. Henrique tasted the oil at bottling and said, ‘My olive oil is so good this year we’re gonna blow the dishes off the wall.’ It wasn’t a translation issue. That’s his expression. No one makes olive oil like he does.”

Last April, at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, 827 olive oil entries from 26 countries were judged. Azeite Espledido took home the top honor, a gold medal.

Macrina is proud to carry this fine olive oil. Buy a bottle and a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, puddle a bit of oil on a plate and dip. Will it blow the dishes off the wall? Probably not. But it just might blow you away.

Meet Our Family: Fanny Alvarado

Fanny Alvarado, our phenomenal wholesale manager, found her way into the Macrina family when life took an unexpected turn. Shortly after earning a degree in business administration in Mexico, she made the fateful decision to enroll in a United States cultural exchange program as an au pair in hopes of improving her English language skills before starting a career. She never intended to stay in America once the two-year program with her host family was complete, but she also did not expect to fall in love with Washington, Macrina Bakery, and the man she’d eventually marry. Recently celebrating her five-year anniversary with the company, Fanny is sharing about the early days, what she loves about her role, and where you can spot her around town.

Fanny Alvarado

You were an au pair before joining the Macrina family. What brought about your career and life shift?

Being an au pair was never my end goal. However, I am grateful to have been involved in a cultural exchange program as an au pair for it gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons. It also connected me with many wonderful people, some of whom were directly involved with Macrina and led to my start with the company and contributed to my desire of staying in this country to work for an artisan high-end bakery in Seattle.

What do you enjoy most about working as the wholesale manager?

I really enjoy the level of human interaction. Our company has been growing since I started and this makes it a very fast-paced and always evolving environment. Keeping up with the fast growth is what’s kept me challenged, and for me being challenged is what I enjoy the most. I like never having time to lose and always being on the go.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The day goes really fast, from touching base with the delivery as soon as [I] get in, making sure customers are being taking care of by our [customer service representatives], figuring out solutions to problems we have never had, and setting up procedures to improve the way we do things in general. Lots of planning and procedure setting.

What has been the highlight of the past five years?

It’s hard to say. The first year working here in 2008, the biggest highlight was that we moved to a bigger facility – from Belltown to SODO. After that just the fast growth is impressive: going from 11 drivers and six delivery vans to 20 drivers and 11 delivery vehicles.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Wow! I don’t know where to begin. I love the beauty found in nature; it draws me to do adventurous things – anything from big beautiful mountains, large green forest to lakes and rivers. There’s much around us to enjoy! I like the outdoors, hiking, camping, rock climbing, snowboarding, kayaking, and rafting.

What is your favorite thing about Macrina?

The diversity in… everything! The products, cultures, and flavors; this place has become part of me! The people I work with are great. Our people-oriented culture inspires me. The difference in our bread is that we don’t have machines making products, but instead they are hand-formed by our bakers. This gives an authenticity to our products, and it’s something I love about our bakery. Just as every person at Macrina is unique, so are our breads. The owners are amazing people. Nowadays, it’s hard to find employers that care this much for each member of the company and also care to do the right thing. This is one of the reasons why I love my job here.

A Classic Cookie for Father’s Day

Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies

Our Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies are a holiday favorite and great for gifting. Crisp and flavorful, they come in a variety of styles to match each celebration, be it Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and even Father’s Day. Simple ingredients go into our melt-in-your-mouth cookies – flour, sugar and butter – making them the perfect base for any dessert. Adorned with crystal colored sugar for a playful treat or paired with roasted nectarines and vanilla bean ice cream for a decadent summertime dessert, these cookies are quite versatile.

We recently swapped the brightly colored sugars used on some of our shortbread cookies for locally sourced, naturally colored sparkling sugar from India Tree. Using concentrated colorants derived from edible plants instead of potentially harmful synthetic dyes, India Tree strives to provide the most wholesome sparkling sugars, gel pastes, and sanding sugars, and their subtle color perfectly suits our rustic party profile.

Just in time for Father’s Day, we will be at the Queen Anne Farmers Market on Thursday, June 13th, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., with our delicious Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies and decorations in tow to help you craft the perfect miniature masterpiece for Dad. Gift boxes, tags and ribbon will be provided to package your cookies. See you there!

Skillet Street Food: Paving the Way with the Perfect Bun

Skillet Airstream.Josh Henderson

A pioneer for food trucks, Skillet Street Food blazed the trail for mobile food across the nation. With Josh Henderson in the driver’s seat, Skillet has made its mark on the Seattle food scene with flawlessly executed diner fare served out of an Airstream trailer. Since its launch in 2007, Josh has opened Skillet Diner and Skillet Counter – brick-and-mortar locations featuring comforting classics enjoyed at a more relaxed pace. But, for Josh, it always comes back to basics: the cheeseburger.

In 1998, Josh graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York with an appetite for adventure but no direct route to get there. It wasn’t until an advantageous move to California that Josh found his calling.

“Right after school I moved back to Seattle,” explains Josh. “I was trying to make a living to support my family. Then I left Seattle in 2002 and moved to L.A. That’s where I started working in the entertainment industry on film sets.”

Traveling the country as a private chef for professional photographers on flashy photo shoots, like Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Porsche, Josh’s inspiration for Seattle street food was born. Feeling a bit homesick and ready for something new, Josh packed up and returned to Seattle to launch Skillet Street Food.

In the beginning, Skillet regularly parked down the street from Macrina’s SODO location, the perfect spot for Rebecca Early and Leslie Mackie to grab a burger for lunch. It wasn’t long before Josh, Leslie, and Rebecca were talking shop and dreaming up the perfect bun for Skillet’s burger.

“I’m a huge fan of Leslie and Macrina is an icon in Seattle, so I was stoked to have her come by. I think at the time we were just using a potato roll from the grocery store,” recalls Josh. “I think Macrina is one of the better bakeries in Seattle and it can really handle the volume. Eventually, Leslie, Rebecca and I came up with the SODO bun.”

With the SODO Bun a success, Skillet menus now also feature Macrina’s buttery Brioche Burger Bun and Rustic Potato Roll.

Now, Josh is keeping his eyes on the road ahead. With Westward and Little Gull Grocery opening this summer and Woodinville’s Hollywood Tavern relaunching under Josh’s direction, there’s no chance he’ll be slowing down any time soon.

A Bit About Brunch

Buttermilk Waffle

Brunch – that delicious blend of breakfast and lunch – has fuzzy origins. Some food historians believe that the meal is rooted in 19th century Britain when hunting groups would have extravagant mid-morning meals. But, my favorite historical mention comes from an 1895 “Hunter’s Weekly” article:

“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting.” Guy Beringer wrote in “Brunch: A Plea.” “It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

There’s a soothing rhythm to this ambrosial weekend tradition: Champagne, fortified with fresh citrus, is poured into tall glasses; sugary breads are passed among good company, feeling downright communal; concerns drift away with the arrival of savory diversions; and finally, we’re ready to nap.

Here at Macrina, we adore the bustle of brunch. The great din of diners bonding over our food and lingering at the case for just one more pastry or a rustic loaf of bread to go with dinner. For us, it’s satisfying seeing everyone walk away completely contented.

With Memorial Day drawing near, we already hear the brunch buzz as everyone organizes his or her weekend morning gaggle. Our weekend diners get to enjoy not one or two but three days of brunching as we extend our brunch menu to Monday.

So, linger longer this weekend, brunch lovers, and reenact your leisurely meal an extra day.

Meet the Artist: Adrian Freuen

Adrian Freuen is the artist behind the beautiful work on display at our SODO location. Adrian came to Macrina with the idea that his art would naturally blend into conversation and capture people’s attention as they mingled with friends over breakfast or lunch.

“I wanted the viewer to live with my work,” says Adrian. “Showing in a cafe as opposed to a gallery allows the viewer to appreciate the art in a relaxed, authentic setting.”

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Born into a family of doctors and artists, Adrian grew up listening to his father tell stories of the day’s surgical procedures at the dinner table. While many people would react in disgust to these sometimes-repugnant tales, Adrian found the stories inspiring. But, instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Adrian used his inherited knowledge of scientific hypotheses and methods to fuel his artistic drive. Although Adrian uses a mixed media to produce each piece, a landscape viewed through a scientific lens is unmistakeable in his work.

“I usually change the technique, because I see that it can offer a particular aesthetic,” explains Adrian of his creative process. “The technique becomes a tool as to what I want to achieve at that particular moment. Once I come to a spot where I am satisfied and feel that the work is conveying a particular observation I stop.”

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Having first realized his artistic aspirations as a high school student, it’s fitting that Adrian currently teaches art at Archbishop Murphy High School and Everett Community College. For him, teaching and creating go hand in hand.

You can view Adrian’s work at our SODO location through the end of May, and then at our McGraw café for the entire month of June.