Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Delicate and delicious new oil at the Deli
If you’re looking for a lovely new olive oil to enhance the quality of your cooking and eating, you might want to make room for Noor Fès from Morocco. Where Tuscan oils are terrifically forward, peppery, and dominant, the Noor Fès is a more delicate bit of culinary poetry. Elegant, ethereal, it’s amazing for fresh fish or on local lettuces. Great on scallops or shrimp. And really good on Bakehouse bread—as you would imagine, I’d say it pairs best with lighter breads like Paesano or Rustic Italian. It’s also wonderful with fresh fruit—either a fruit salad or simple slices of ripe peach or nectarine. Although the flavor profile is completely different from the amazing IASA Peperoncino I wrote about last week, both products have the kind of compelling flavor and long finish that make me want to go back over and over again for more!
While coffee has only relatively recently arrived in Kenya, the story of olives in Morocco is exactly the opposite. There are archeological records of it going back nearly 100,000 years. This would have been fruit from wild trees, since olives have been cultivated only for the last 6000 years. The olive oil work at Noor Fès is much more recent. It’s a 750-acre farm about 25 miles outside the city of Fès. Once a property run by French colonists, it’s now owned and managed by the Amor family. About 15 years ago, Dakir—an in-law of the family—decided to pursue his passion. He left a “good job” in finance in hopes of finding “good work” (see the Introduction to Part 2) trying to create a Moroccan oil worthy of attention from aficionados around the globe. Dakir decided to plant the old Picholine olive trees, nurturing them with water from the natural springs on the farm. In the spirit of generosity—which, coincidentally is “water” in the organizational ecosystem metaphor (email me if you’d like the drawing)—the folks at Noor Fès share theirs with farmers in neighboring villages. It’s done in the belief, which we share here in the ZCoB, that they will do best when the ecosystem around them is healthy and vibrant as well. The farm is also working to attain zero waste and radically reduce its carbon footprint.
The town of Fès is relatively new by the ancient standards of Morocco. It was founded only about 1200 years ago. Waves of Arab people immigrated to the area both from Andalusia, in Spain, and from what is now Tunisia. Over time, the city became known as a center for religious study and trade. Along with Cordoba in Spain, Fès was once one of the Jewish intellectual centers of the western Mediterranean—Maimonides was one of the many Jewish scholars who spent time there, in his case from 1159-65. In the spirit of historically interesting languages and the loss of linguistic diversity, the town had a unique Arabic-Jewish dialect which was spoken for many centuries, one that adapted Ladino (the ancient language of the Spanish Jewish community) to the local use of Arabic.
Although Morocco has thousands of years of olive oil history, it’s really gotten little recognition on the world scene in modern times. This great oil from Noor Fès will, I’m confident, start to change that image. Along with the excellent oil we get from the Mahjoub family in Tunisia, they are en route to making the Southern Mediterranean one of the places that rolls quickly off the tongue when one thinks of great olive oils. As I write, I’m snacking on toasted Paesano bread with slices of ripe nectarine laid on top, all dressed with some of the delicately delicious Noor Fès oil on top. If angels ate olive oil, this might be the one they would opt for.