The Evangelist of Olive Oil From Greek groves to local kitchens

Moorhead’s Peter Schultz with olive oil producer Eugene Ladopoulus on his farm near Sparta, Greece. Photos/Morgan Allora.

To hear Moorhead’s Peter Schultz tell it, the extra-virgin olive oil he has brought from Greece to the Red River Valley for nearly 20 years is the next best thing to a silver bullet.

August is the time when he accepts orders for the precious pallets to be shipped late this fall from a Greek port to Fargo-Moorhead and several other distribution points around the region. Grecian farmer Eugene Ladopoulos and his son will pick olives from his groves on Mount Taygetos west of Sparta, then press and bottle the oil and ship it across the Atlantic. Mistra Estates extra-virgin olive oil isn’t sold in stores, instead, Peter is its American importer, wholesaler and retail agent, distributing it among customers who order cases place online orders between now and Aug. 31.

Since 2006, he has been bringing the golden Grecian product to a growing contingent of devotees here and, now, in locations where word has spread among chefs and fans of healthier eating. His first cases were shared among only a handful of Fargo-Moorhead customers. Since then, word has spread far and wide, due in no small part to Schultz’s zeal in promoting both the top-quality oil and the Mediterranean diet that’s based around it.

“This way of eating is nothing new,” the enthusiastic entrepreneur explains. “It’s the oldest documented way of eating that humans have known.” Mediterranean dining focuses on plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans,and nuts supplemented by moderate portions of lean poultry, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs, all tied together with olive oil as the key ingredient.

“It’s the exact opposite of a fad diet,” he emphasizes. “All you need is the willingness to give it a try.” After just a week, he says, those who switch to olive oil can feel its beneficial effects from their hair and skin to their energy and their digestion.

A native of Duluth, Minnesota, Schultz found his way to Moorhead – where his family had deep roots – as a student at Concordia College. After completing his bachelor’s degree in art history, philosophy and the classics in 1994, he went on to Vanderbilt University to complete a master’s in art history. He fell in love with Greece during a two-month summer stint at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and went on to complete a doctorate in art history and archaeology at the University of Athens during an eight-year stay there.

His entrance into the olive oil gospel came during his studies. His dissertation advisor introduced him to her husband Eugene Ladopoulos, a farmer. The two became friends during the Greek’s first year of bottling his special product. “In fact, I was the graduate student-grunt-serf who helped hand-label the first bottles he ever sent to America,” Schultz recalls. “We talked about bringing it to Fargo-Moorhead.”

That seed of an idea blossomed 17 years ago, when Schultz – a complete novice to the ins and outs of import credentials and regulations – signed up for half a pallet. “It was the best I’d ever tasted … and I couldn’t sell it,” he confides. Tony and Sarah Nasello saved his venture by buying the unsold remainder for their restaurant Sarello’s. “If they hadn’t, I’d never have been able to continue.”

Today, with the help of his assistant of seven years, Cady Rutter, Schultz presides over a business that has been growing an estimated 20% each year. In 2021, the two imported 800 12-bottle cases, equivalent to a little more than 10 pallets. They have added a Grecian source of sea salt this year, as well as a charitable venture with the Jeremiah Program, a nationwide program that works to bring single mothers and their children out of poverty. Affiliates in several locations including Fargo-Moorhead are offering codes online that can be used to discount the selling price of Schultz’s oil. He will match that discount with a direct cash donation to the program where they acquired the code.

Schultz visits his friend’s grove every year to learn more about the coming vintage. (Yes, olive oil of this calibre has distinct annual vintages. Last year’s, he says, was quite peppery, while 2022 is expected to be smooth and delicate.) Those annual visits have turned into tours of the surrounding Greek terrain. “Since I have to visit the groves every year anyway, why not get eight friends together and cruise around the Peloponnese?” he says. His tours are always a sell-out – such a success that Rutter herself has researched and is organizing a similar journey to Crete for women.

His olive oil import business is only one of Schultz’s varied and often spontaneous adventures. He holds a research appointment in art history at North Dakota State University, a discipline he taught for 10 years at Concordia. He is the executive director of the Longspur Prairie Fund, a nonprofit that fosters prairie and wetlands restoration. He is active with the Rourke Art Museum and Gallery. He also manages Theran Press, an academic publishing company he founded; its best-known title is “Midwest Mediterranean: Finding Health and Flavor with the Foods of the North,” which he co-authored with Megan Myrdahl. It includes research on the health benefits of the olive oil he loves.

But if he has a first love, it’s clearly pressed from the fruit of Ladopoulos’s purely natural, mountain-grown Grecian olives. “Our family goes through six 12-bottle cases of it a year. It’s fantastic stuff,” he evangelizes. “It’s absolutely delicious … and it’s so very, very good for you.” Try it, he says … and you, too, may become a disciple.

For more information on ordering this year’s vintage of Mistra Estates extra-virgin olive oil, go to https://www.peterschultzimporter.com or call him at (701) 866-8660.

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