I discovered Agrozimi last year, when a woman in another small company that I was hoping to work with told me about two brothers who made amazing pasta. She and I didn’t manage to bring her products to the States (yet!) but I loved the supportive nature of this Artisan community and the fact that she gladly pointed me in the direction of Agrozimi, a company that might fit the Zelos profile. I decided to first buy some of their pasta before reaching out to them so off I went to my favorite gourmet food store in my home town of Thessaloniki. Seeing all their products on the shelf made me feel like a kid in a toy-store. There was spicy linguine, squid ink pearl pasta and linguine, spelt pasta, zea pasta, amazingly long pasta to create the most beautiful dishes, traditional hilopítes and pétoura, that reminded me of my grandmother….how could I possibly choose?!
My family has been so supportive of my Zelos journey, but I have to say, when I bought six different packs and told them we were going to be eating pasta every day that week, they did roll their eyes. The first pack, though, convinced us all. You see, this pasta holds itself so nicely and has a real fragrance and taste. It gives you a warm feeling as soon as you take a bite and the texture makes any sauce really stick on it instead of having the sauce and the pasta floating around on your plate. Later I would learn that it is Agrozimi’s special way of air-drying their pasta (instead of drying it in the oven like the big companies do) and their bronze dies that create this effect.
When I went back to Greece in March, I asked my friend and collaborator, Pauline, to drive out with me to see just what was behind the Agrozimi name…and to help me navigate the backroads leading to their site, some 40-odd miles northwest of Thessaloniki. When Pauline told her 90-year-old father-in-law, a long-retired grocer, that she was going to visit a pasta producer, he asked her for the name. Perplexed, she told him, “Mar-ta-something or other…oh, I can’t remember, babá!”, struggling with the admittedly complicated name. “Ah, Martavaltzoglou, of course!”, he replied. "We used to buy trahaná from him for the store, he had the best…so you’re taking him to America, eh? Bring home some samples!” Now we were really curious to meet these guys!
Well, those sons, Kostas and Yiorgos, have definitely done their father (and grandfather) proud. They took over a successful family business and to their credit, have managed to grow and innovate in these eight years of deep recession in Greece. With plenty of zēlos, they have brought new flavors and products to complement the traditional ones they still believe in making. They carefully invested to build a new production site with state-of-the-art equipment from Italy and high ceilings to ensure that long pasta could be dried straight. But they also insisted on staying in the Aravissos area, where their grandfather started the business, rather than heading to the big city. “The water here is so clean and fresh”, said Kostas, “it gives the pasta a special texture and flavor”.
We donned caps, gowns, and shoe covers and entered a warm and fragrant space, where a few workers were making kritharáki, the famous Greek orzo. Coming before lunch, the smell was just tantalizing. But what surprised us the most was that the place was so clean, despite being in the middle of making pasta (which I definitely can’t say for my kitchen when I do the same!). Yiorgos, the older brother, showed us with pride the refrigerator with fresh, pasteurized eggs and milk. “No powdered things here,” he said, confirming their commitment to quality. He told us of their grandfather and father, who had carefully searched for the best wheat in the region, and how they still keep those relationships, years later. Younger brother, Kostas, was excited as he told us of their newest customer, a French chef in Paris who had ordered pasta for his restaurant. The Martavaltzoglou family has definitely come a long way from those bulk deliveries to Thessaloniki’s mom-and-pop grocers!
We all had a hard time deciding which of their many products to bring to the US (you can see the full range on their website) but before bringing more familiar, Italian-inspired products, I wanted to first make traditional Greek pasta known in the States, especially that with a little twist. So you’ll find the kritharáki & hilopítes that I remember from so many family Sunday lunches, but also the spelt versions that Yiorgos & Kostas developed for those wanting an even healthier dish. The pétoura, typical of my own Pontian heritage, are given a splash of color and an extra burst of flavor, thanks to spinach, beets, red peppers and squid ink.
I really want Agrozimi to succeed in the US. Kostas and Yiorgos represent the zealous attitude that I love and respect so much, and what they do truly comes from the heart. I do hope you all will enjoy these wonderful products as much as I enjoyed discovering them!
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