Ah, Greece, Islands, Beaches, The Mediterranean Diet and People who live to 101

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We should eat like the Greeks, of course. But finding a Greek market in Sacramento is like embarking on a true Odyssey.

Unlike San Francisco, where a huge Greek population supports plenty of neighborhood Greek markets, Sacramento’s equally significant Greek community doesn’t have such finds.

But if you’ve ever reached for the smallish, shiny and wrinkly black kalamata olives at an olive bar, eaten them on pizza or encountered them in olive bread, chances are those olives came from Mani Imports headquartered in West Sacramento.

Founded in the late 1990s by Peter Cononelos, 52, Mani Imports began as a company so small its warehouse was a friend’s cabinet shop.

Back then, even with a degree in economics from the University of California, Davis, Cononelos was as green at the food business as some of the olives he now sells.

Having spent long periods of his childhood in the kalamata area of Greece, Cononelos speaks fluent Greek. He wanted to develop a line of food products to show the best of his culture. After all, he says, “being Greek is a blast.”

He made the requisite trip to Corti Brothers in Sacramento to see if Darrell Corti would carry an extra-virgin olive oil made from koroneiki olives from Mani, a region southeast of kalamata. “I took a 250-ml (about 8 ounces) bottle in a brown bag and I went to Corti and asked ‘What would you pay for this?’ ” Cononelos recalls.

“He gave me a number,” Cononelos said, his face showing satisfaction, “and I said, ‘I’m doing this.’ ”
He describes Mani extra-virgin olive oil as having medium intensity and a green-grassy flavor profile from an area renown for oils made from the koroneiki olive. “Greece is really just one big olive orchard.”

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