Ship in a Bottle
This is the story of how a ship changed the destiny of a family, and how that ship became synonymous with olive oil. It all started in the 1850’s when great-grandfather Micaleff embarked on a journey to the east, from Malta to Crimea, leaving his two sons in Izmir.
Their started life in İzmir as ship chandlers. When the Crimean war was over the sons did not want to return to Malta, having already started family businesses in Izmir. The destiny of the Micaleff family began with that ship voyage, as the family went on to become one of the biggest producers of olive oil in Turkey.
The grandson Anthony Micaleff eventually established the first branded olive oil company in the country in 1938. Christopher Dologh, the present general manager of the company, says his uncle, Noel Micaleff, Anthony’s son, now 83 years of age, still hosts olive oil tastings in the company every single day.
The association between that eastward-bound ship and olive oil is nothing more than a lucky coincidence. When Anthony Micaleff started olive oil production as a branded product, there was no packaging available in Turkey, so he brought in tin can-producing machines from France, becoming the first producer to sell olive oil in tin cans in the country. An image of the ship that changed the destiny of the family was stamped on the cans.
In those days road transportation was troublesome in Anatolia, so the olive oil was transported to other parts of Turkey via ships and then transferred to inland destinations. In many parts of inland Anatolia, the olive oil became known as “the oil with the ship,” as the emblem featured first in tin cans, and then later in glass bottles.
For many the image of the ship indicated quality. The Kristal tin cans became a regular feature of households. They were re-used as measuring implements, as the weight written on the can was fully trusted. Other tins ended up as storage containers or flower pots in window sills blooming with colorful geraniums.
The Levantines in the city have maintained a two-way umbilical cord connecting European cities and İzmir, nurturing both sides in various ways. They traded the plenty of Aegean to Europe, providing them with figs and Smyrna sultanas for their Christmas puddings and Turkish carpets for their houses. They supplied cotton, textiles and Turkish tobacco and in return were introduced to European urban culture, establishing factories and institutionalizing the industrial sector.
They have become a part of the community. Even if some have had to leave, they have always felt İzmir to be their hometown. Many feel more at home in Turkey than in their ancestral land, the Micaleff family included.
Enrichetta Micaleff, wife of Anthony Micalleff’s son Charles, is of Italian ancestry. In an oral history interview with the Levantine Heritage Foundation she has said she does not feel Italian when in Italy, even though Italian is one of her mother tongues. Like many Levantines, her mother tongue is more than one, a mix of Italian and French, with a passable command of Greek and finally Turkish. Although she does feel herself to be an Izmir local, she does not consider herself totally Turkish, as she is ethnically different. His husband is from British Malta and was a British subject, but at home they did not speak English. She says most Levantines end up being neither fish nor fowl, but for her that is fine, and she is proud to be a Levantine.
Kristal sold 49 percent of its shares to Arkas Group in 2007, another Levantine company, broadening its horizons in both domestic and international markets. Interestingly, the symbol of the ship is even more important in the Arkas family. The Arkas group was also founded in Izmir as an import-export agency in 1902, sailing ships to seven seas.
For many Levantines, ties to their ancestral lands were forged through ships. Long ago the ships brought them to their new land, and ships saved them from hard times in war, many came back with ships, the ships sustained their existence through trade as with the Arkas family, and the ships branded their identity as with the Micaleff family. On the logo of Kristal oils, the ship stands for trust, progress and prosperity.
Recipe of the Week: This week’s recipe comes from Ayvalık, the heart of olive oil production in the North Aegean region, and the origin of most of Kristal’s olive oil. It is called ada köftesi, which translates as “island meatballs.” I do not know whether the name refers to the island of Lesbos, just across from Ayvalık, or to Cunda, now connected to the mainland by an infill road.
Ada köftesi is a unique meatball, which makes use of olive oil frying, copious amounts of breadcrumbs and a generous helping of wild thyme.
For 500 grams of medium-fat minced meat, grate two medium onions and place them both in a deep dish to mix. Add one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of black pepper. Remove the inside of a whole loaf of bread and discard the crust, and wet the bread with water. Squeeze slightly to remove excess water and crumble the wet bread over the meat.
It is important to retain enough water to have a moist meatball mixture. If necessary add a little bit more water. Add a handful of dried thyme (as much as two to three tablespoons) slightly crushing the herb between your palms to release the aroma. Knead all to a moist mixture. Shape into balls or longish sausage-shaped fingers and toss them in a plate of flour (about one cup), dusting all sides of the meatballs with flour. In a pan heat about two to three cm of deep olive oil and fry the meatballs, shaking and turning them occasionally. They make the juiciest succulent meatballs full of flavor.
Fork of the Week:
“Traditional Recipes of the Levantine Cuisine: Izmir Levantine Cuisine; a Pinch of Nostalgia, Plenty of Taste, as Much Flour as it Takes…”
Not easy to come by, but do try to get hold of this book, which sheds light on the Levantine culture of İzmir. It is written by four Levantine ladies; Ingrid Briaggiotti (daughter of Enrichetta and Charles Micaleff), Ode Aude Marie Ragusin, Lotte Romano and Maria Elisa Capaccioli Sponza.
Cork of the Week:
Kristal’s partner Arkas Group also owns LA Wines, named after the initials of Lucien Arkas. Accompany the Ada meatballs with an LA wine to have a totally Levantine feast. The meatballs are so light and juicy they will go well with the Mon Rêve Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc or a juicy Mon Rêve Tempranillo.