We all know that some of the world’s finest wine comes from the Mediterranean, but did you know the herbs and spices are pretty great too? The climate, water and love that goes into caring for the plants is a mixture Europeans tend to do well… and one Evangelia Koutsovoulou has turned into a successful career.
In 2013, she opened a small company in Athens called Daphnis and Chloe that has since become thee premium source for herbs and spices. Her plants are used by professional chefs and home cooks alike and are shipped all over the world. Daphnis and Chloe stocks from family-run farms throughout Greece’s remote islands and mountains, and ensures that their products are handpicked, using only artisanal methods that are non-invasive. This makes them individually unique and much tastier than their store-bought counterparts.
Their studio, which is open by appointment for tastings and herb shopping, has since become a hotspot tourists include on their itineraries while visiting the ancient city. Here, The Fullest talks to the herb purveyor and gets the spicy scoop.
How did your love of herbs and spices come to be?
As a consequence of my love for good food in general, I’ve spent most of my adult life in Italy. It was an Italian friend who made me notice how superior my Greek oregano was compared to the one she was getting from the local market… and you know, coming from an Italian, this is quite a compliment! She inspired me to research the topic which is actually how I found out that Greece is home to many remarkable herbs and spices that nobody has ever dealt with professionally. Thus, this is how it all began.
Tell me about growing up in Greece.
I grew up in a small town of Central Greece, spending the summers of my childhood in the mountains, surrounded by nature. It took me years to realize the impact of this experience on my character and life approach. Time spent in nature is still today my favorite thing in the world.
Why do herbs grow better in Greece? And why are people buying their herbs and spices from you, rather than a local grocery store?
Why do certain vineyards make better wine than others? First, because of the climate. Second, because of the varieties that they chose to cultivate together. Third, because of the care and love they put into the production process. You don’t need to be a scientist or a professional chef in order to recognize a superior ingredient. That’s the beauty of nature: bounty speaks for itself.
How did you settle upon the name Daphnis and Chloe?
Well, that’s a funny story. I’d been considering the name for some time, Daphnis and Chloe is the title of a novel that narrates a pastoral love between two shepherds. It’s a beautiful story that relates so nicely to our spirit as a company. However, I wasn’t 100% sure… plus the .com was taken. Then one day I check online and the .com was free! It was karma!
You opened up shop in Athens in 2013, what was it that made you want to open an actual space?
Well, it’s not exactly a shop but more of an office with a storefront. Initially it was just an office, but then we started having people knocking on the door. Often it was visitors from abroad who had already tasted our herbs and wanted to know more. So we decided to open to the public, and now we accept visitors for tastings and herb shopping, by appointment.
How did you choose Athens?
Living abroad for about 15 years, I have often secretly dreamt of being back home. I love the Greek sun and the fact that Athens makes it so easy to hop on a boat and go to the islands for the weekend. Not to mention that in terms of logistics, it makes more sense to be located in Greece, since we work with Greek farms.
How did word end up spreading to the international market?
Mostly by word of mouth. First some nice shops wanted to stock our selection, then a good review and so on. It’s an organic process and under many aspects we’re dealing with a range of goods that are radically natural and highly dependent on the weather and human labour. We love the idea of running a brand that sticks to certain good, old school values. With the only difference being that today we have Internet!
What are some of your favorite herbs and spices to use?
I use a lot of oregano because it’s an essential topping for one of my favorite comfort foods: toasted bread with cheese and olive oil. But then it depends. My latest discovery is usually my latest obsession.
What do you wish more people knew about herbs and spices?
Hmm, things that sound obvious once you’ve given them a little thought. For instance, people do understand that freshly ground coffee will always taste better, or that Chardonnays from different places will taste different. Good herbs and spices can absolutely transform a meal.