Last week I got an invitation by e-mail for a visit to the Storages and Distribution Centre of AB Vassilopoulos, one of the biggest Greek food chains, in Oinophyta, which is an industrial area, 57 km to the North of Athens.
Our rendezvous point was at Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens. A bus picked us up at 10 a.m. and we returned back late in the afternoon.
Let’s take things from the beginning. The invitation did not mention who else would be attending so I was reluctant at the beginning to attend, as I did not want to go somewhere among strangers. I asked if I could take someone with me and my husband volunteered to come along. In the invitation we were warned to wear autumn clothes and they also mentioned that after the tour, Chef Alexandros Papandreou would prepare lunch for us.
After boarding the bus and introducing ourselves we found out that we were all food bloggers!! There were a couple of food bloggers whom I had met in previous meetings but most of them were new ones. We picked up some more on our way which were people I knew well.
We arrived around 11 a.m. and were greeted by a group of polite staff, who after welcoming us, directed us to one of the staffs’ lounges. Chef Papandreou and his sous chef were already there preparing lunch. Although outside the temperature was 39ο C / 102ο F, but still we had to change and put on some warmer clothes. Some people had not brought extra clothes with them so the staff handed over some jackets to them. The tour began and we literally entered in the refrigerators.
Our first stop was at the fruits and vegetables section. We began feeling the chill but it was tolerable, as if being in a cold, air-conditioned room.
Endless aisles of fruit and vegetables. It was like being in “Heaven”. We wanted to explore and photograph everything.
We were briefed on where the products come from, how the suppliers are evaluated and selected, about quality control, how the storages operate and every other controllable parameter so that the best quality is achieved.
After moving further inside, the temperatures began dropping. Arriving at the dairy products we were already in winter temperatures.
You cannot imagine how many different types of Greek cheeses there were and each variety had so many different brands. I got tired photographing feta alone and what you see, is just a small sample.
Each section is isolated with rolling doors so as to maintain the necessary temperature. The trucks enter inside the storage rooms but before loading, the external door is closed and another one opens inside the storage room.
We stopped every now and then so that they could explain how each thing worked. The products are stored according to their weight, so that when pallets are prepared for the forklifts to carry, heavier products are stored on the base and as they proceed they stack lighter things on top. The pallets are moved to the garage doors, as you can see below.
We went through many aisles with all kinds of charcuterie and cold cuts, hams, sausages, bacons etc., then there were fresh meat, poultry, seafood, fish etc., but at that time I was feeling so cold that I was rather trying to move around and warm up rather than taking photos.
Finally we arrived at the frozen products, which was like visiting the North Pole (don’t forget I was wearing autumn clothes!!) as the temperature in there was -25C / -15F degrees and I only managed to stay in for a few seconds. Those wearing jackets managed to stay inside for a couple of minutes.
After the tour we went back to the lounge for lunch. Oh, it was so good to be in a normal air-conditioned room again!
The chefs were already preparing the dishes with some last minute preparations.
A smoothie cocktail with avocado, cucumber, lemon juice, lime, chili etc., was prepared on the spot and offered to us. Then came the appetizer. As far as I remember it had mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, basil, pineapple etc. The salad had rusks from Kythera, cherry tomatoes, basil, ladotyri Mytilinis, topped with pesto etc. The main dish was a cold pasta dish: fussili, cubed tomatoes, basil, spring onions and shrimps with tomato and basil vinaigrette. Finally, for dessert we were offered Greek yoghurt and mint pannacotta, topped with fresh marinated cherries with mint and a vanilla pod.
The food was delicious and we had a great time. On our way out, our hosts offered us a bagful of Greek products with Protected Destination of Origin (PDO). Some of these products are: Moschophilero, white wine from Mantinia (Arcadia), Wine vinegar made from xinomavro, from Naoussa, Ladotyri Mytilinis (cheese), Sour Cherries preserve from Tripoli, Wild Sour Cherries preserve from Pelion, Fig jam from Markopoulo (Attica), oregano from Karditsa, bulgur wheat from Macedonia, Fava Pheneou, whole wheat flour from Thessaly. There were lots of boxes of fresh herbs, such as oregano, mint, basil, rocket etc., from which we helped ourselves.
I have already made a few recipes using these products. A cheesecake using the sour cherries was made by my daughter and I made A rusk based salad with apricots, tomato and rocket and feta and a Fava and Bulgur Pie. The recipes will be posted separately soon.
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,