The clan of Hüsnü Atis is deeply interwoven into the fabric of the Madison community. The name probably sounds familiar to any Madison resident on the strength of Hüsnü's restaurant: this State Street institution opened in 1979 and has served Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean food to a receptive Madison since. (My father also knows the family through the Classics department at the UW-Madison and I attended West High School with Hüsnü's daughter Esenbahar.)
This week his daughters, Resmine Ann and Esenbahar, are making the in-house olive oil employed at Hüsnü's available to the public in bottled form.
Hüsnü was born in a small village in Turkey, where he grew up making goat's cheese, baking bread, and cooking with locally available olive oil.
"People associate olive trees with Italy or Greece, but the wild olive tree is indigenous to Asia Minor," says Resmine Ann. The tree was domesticated on the slopes of modern-day Turkey in the fourth millennium; in the ancient world it was viewed as a semi-magical substance and was rubbed into the bodies of athletes and treasured of its culinary uses and medicinal properties. When Hüsnü Atis moved his family to Madison in 1976, he brought this ancient tradition with him.
Hüsnü's cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is light and sweet, almost honey-like; structured, complex, and agile in response to other ingredients (cilantro-infused garlic and sourdough brings out the density of the oil; tomato and scallion bruschetta seem to clarify it). "The hillside air of the mountain location in Turkey provides a distinct flavor to the harvested olives," says Esenbahar.
A 500 ml bottle is available at Whole Foods, the Willy Street Co-op, Metcalfe's Market at Hilldale, or through the Hüsnü's restaurant website, where it's $14. Hüsnü's Olive Oil represents the logical extension of a culinary tradition that has always prized well sourced flours, grains, butters, and oils.