Monday, June 11, 2012

All NatYral

Organic food is trendy.  In the U.S. people flock to Whole Foods Market and their local Community Supported Agriculture farms for fresh organically grown meats, dairy products, and produce.  Organic soaps, beauty products and even clothing pack shelves in stores that market themselves as being environmentally friendly.  For true believers, cost is no object when it comes to providing their families with the freshest and most natural products available.

In Albania, as in many developing countries, being organic is and has been a way of life long before it became a trend.  Due in part to tradition, the lack of access to and the inability to afford non-natural fertilizers and pesticides many farmers continue to farm organically.  Most of the Albanian grown produce you find in roadside vegetable stands is organic even if it isn't labeled as such.  If you mention the phrase "organic" to many Albanians they don't understand what you are saying since farming in this country is by default, organic.  As Albania develops and becomes more western, however, there is a growing trend towards the labeling and marketing products as being organic.

Olive oil ready to be exported
Once such example that is on the cutting edge of this trend is the NatYral Farm located on the outskirts of Tirana in Ndroq.  Started in 2006 as local olive oil producer, the farm has expanded to include the export of extra virgin olive oil to other European countries as well as the production and local sale of dairy products.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to tour the farm and olive oil factory.

The olive oil factory set up was impressive.  Olive harvest season is during the late fall so olive oil wasn't being produced during our visit. We were still able to see the large cleaning and processing tanks where olives from four different southern Albanian locations (Elbasan, Fier, Vlora, and Himara) are brought in and pressed into extra virgin olive oil.  At peak operation, the factory has the capacity to process 17.5 tons of olives an hour resulting in 5,000 tons of olive oil each season.  (Imagine what that pile of pits looks like!)  We were also able to go into the underground storage cellar where the freshly pressed oil is stored in temperature controlled tanks before being packaged in tins and shipped off to distributors.

Cows on the farm
Our next stop on the farm was the cow barns.  It was a very hot day and I was dreading our schlep through the barns.  First, as silly as it may sound, cows scare me.  I also dislike the unpleasant conditions that exist on so many farms.  Up until this time, all of the farm animals I have seen in Albania have looked dirty, malnourished, and sad.  (This includes our two neighborhood cows who often cause traffic jams at the end of our street).  Much to my delight, these cows were clean and clearly well fed.  Despite the hot day, the cow barn didn't have that overwhelming stench I associate with farms.   These cows were obviously well cared for.  If there was any doubt to this it was quickly put to rest when we had the opportunity to sample and purchase farm fresh dairy products.  The cheeses and yogurt tasted fresh and the milk tasted like the milk I remembered from my childhood.  For the first time since we arrived in Albania, I added fresh milk to my other dairy purchases.

Organic Albanian products
An extension of NatYral Framing is the recently opened NatYral Restaurant right here in Tirana.  (The restaurant is conveniently located next door to a retail outlet that sells milk, butter and cheeses from the farm).  Operated by Ignazio Campanale, a Italian trained chef who has taught cooking classes at our Embassy, the atmosphere and food at NatYral Restaurant is nothing short of fabulous.  The interior of the restaurant is bright and airy and has an open kitchen- a highly unusual feature in Albanian restaurants. (I figure that any kitchen that is willing to let its patrons watch the food being prepared has nothing to hide).  The food is billed as traditional Italian food made with Albanian products; everything I've eaten there has been fresh, flavorful, plated beautifully and tasted unlike anything else I've had in this country.  The flavor combinations are as complex as Albania is ancient.  The hard part is deciding which menus items to chose.  At a recent lunch Glenn and I ended up placing both of our plates in the middle of the table and sharing.  I was torn between eating slowly to savor the flavors and picking up my pace before the food on the shared plates disappeared.  We liked the restaurant so much that we've already planned to treat our next out of town visitors to a dinner there.

Like most stores and restaurants in Albania, the prices at both the NatYral Farm and NatYral Restaurant are shockingly low by American standards. These prices make it so affordable to eat quality, organic products that it is a shame not to.  It is foods like these that make it so easy to eat well in Albania.


  1. So true what you say about natural farming - here in France - most local farms are also organic too. They could probably afford pesticides etc..but choose to be old-fashion about it - preferring natural conditions as it's been done by generations. Yes, this current generation have home gardens also - and choose to be organic. It's nice not to have to pay the American premium price for such delicious and great food! Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. I am so happy I found your blog! My family is moving to Albania in August! Thank you for your insight!