When two tousled-haired teenage friends drove home with a couple of buckets of olives bought from a Provencal farmers’ market in southern France one day in the early 1990s little did they see how their culinary future would unfold. Always on the look out for new ingredients George Bennell (whose culinary CV includes working at the Michelin-starred La Taillevent in Paris), and Adam Wells still travel widely seeking out producers and suppliers offering ‘heritage’ and ‘authenticity’.
Now with around 160 employees in a state of the art food processing unit in Greenford, west London the friends oversee an empire creating Mediterranean inspired spreads such as Rose Harissa (try it on fried eggs at breakfast, oh – and Nigella is quoted as wanting a year’s supply of this!) and Zhoug (a Yemeni paste made with aromatic cloves and cardamom, green chilli heat and freshness from coriander). Belazu’s main business is the food service sector supplying sized batches of antipasti, pastes and vinegars, and not forgetting the huge volumes of extra virgin olive oil and regular olive. Many of the company’s suppliers have been with them since the early days, such as Eduard who tends the L’Albages groves in Garrigues, Cataluña.
First known as The Fresh Olive Company, a rebranding led to the computer generated name Belazu, which has a Mediterranean/north Africa feel and can be pronounced in the languages of the region.
Taste testing olive oil
On a recent visit organised by the Guild of Food Writers, I tasted six different oils all served in blue glasses to disguise the colour of the sample. This avoids us making any decisions based on colour, sight is irrelevant when tasting or grading oils.
- Cup the glass in your palm and gently swirl the oil releasing its aroma. Smell the oil looking for freshness or if it is rancid.
- Take a small mouthful, before gently rolling it around your mouth, sucking in a little air to release the volatiles.
- This is where you can seek out the basic characteristics of the oil. Does it have fruity tones (perhaps reminiscent of what you’ve tasted before), or a little piquancy or perhaps some bitterness (noticed on the side or back of the mouth)? From this, it can be described as light or sweet, strong or pungent or even peppery (found at the back of the throat).
- Is the oil in ‘balance’?
We tasted six oils including a fruity Gaziello Mosto from Liguria, northern Italy; an Early Harvest variety from Cataluña, Spain; a fresh parsley oil using the Albequiera olive and a rare fig leaf oil, made with Arbequina oil and fig leaves plucked from just outside the olive farmer’s pressing room in Spain.
Belazu’s resident innovation chef, Henry Russell, former head chef at Moro, created a menu to showcase the versatility of olive oil from drizzling its fresh parsley oil it on a bed of finely chopped Tomatoes, fresh Cheese and a squeeze of Lemon, to a Chicken, Jamón and Fino broth with sliced Spring Vegetables and boosted with a fresh Basil flavoured olive oil. A slow cooked Chocolate Fondant was served with an ice cream made with Verdemanda extra virgin oil oil finished off the dinner with sweet note, reminiscent of freshly cut grass, green apple and with a peppery finish.
The Verdemanda EVOO is made by mechanically crushing very young Arbequina olives, picked a month early before being frozen in blocks which are thawed to meet demand. Farmer Eduard takes Arbequina olives and young, wild parsley leaves from the Garrigues region of Catalunya. The leaves are added to the unpressed olives to be stone ground. The two natural oils are cold extracted and fuse together in a culinary way. The finished oil has an intense green colour and distinguished by grassy notes, an underlying mineral nature and a strong peppery finish.
To get a taste of Belazu’s products pop along to a food festival for chef demonstrations, product tastings taking at food festivals such as Taste of London (June 13 – 17); Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, Tunbridge Wells (July 6 – 8) and Abergavenny (September 15 – 16).
Here is a Belazu recipe prepared by Henry on the day of our visit:
PAN CON TOMATE
A favourite breakfast dish across Spain, Pan con Tomate or tomato toast has its roots in Cataluña. Here it is given a boost with the addition of jamón (ham) and anchovies.
1 loaf of fresh white bread, such as a sourdough, cut into 4, 2cm thick slice
1 peeled clove of garlic
250g flavoursome tomatoes (size and shape is less important)
100g Jamón – Iberico is best but expensive, Serrano is fine. (Italian prosciutto can also be used) – optional
6 anchovy fillets – optional
Remove stalks from the tomato and then wash. Cut in half and then put in a food processor. Blitz on a high speed for around 20-30 seconds, until the flesh has been chopped up but there is still some texture. Set aside in a bowl.
Put the bread in a toaster and toast till brown on both sides (if you have a BBQ or similar type of heat available, then use it here).
Lightly rub the warm toast with the garlic all over – less is more here go gently.
Generously drizzle the olive oil all over the toast and then put a couple of spoons of tomato on top, smoothing it all over the surface.
Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top and then drizzle a little more oil.
Add the jamón or anchovies now, if desired, and then eat. Whilst delicious warm, the toast is actually as delicious once the bread is a little soggy.
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