Epityrum was originally a Greek dip, which was adopted by the Romans. There are two recipes that survive, quoted in Cato (De Agricultura 119), and Columella (De Re Rustica 12:49:5 and 12:49:9), as well as mentioned as a common dip in Sicily by Varro (De Lingua Latina 7:86). The word Epityrum means “Over Cheese”, because the Greeks and the Romans ate this dip or paste together with cheese. This is a great dip to serve during the Passover Seder as an authentic dip to dip Matza (Unleavened Bread) and Maror (Bitter Herbs) into.
For comparison I am quoting both Cato’s and Columella’s recipes.
Cato (De Agricultura 119):
Epityrum album nigrum variumque sic facito. Ex oleis albis nigris variisque nuculeos eicito. Sic condito. Concidito ipsas, addito oleum, acetum, coriandrum, cuminum, feniculum, rutam, mentam. In orculam condito, oleum supra siet. Ita utito.
Recipe for a confection of green, ripe, and mottled olives. Remove the stones from green, ripe, and mottled olives, and season as follows: chop the flesh, and add oil, vinegar, coriander, cummin, fennel, rue, and mint. Cover with oil in an earthen dish, and serve.
Latin Text and translation from Loeb Classical Library edition by W. D. Hooper
Columella (De Re Rustica 12:49:5)
At haec oliva per se parum iucunda est, sed ad eas condituras, quae lautioribus mensis adhibentur, idonea maxime est: nam cum res exegit, de amphora promitur et contusa recipit quamcumque volueris condituram. Plerumque tamen sectivum porrum et rutam cum apio tenero et mentam minute concidunt et contusis olivis miscent[ur], deinde exiguum aceti piperati et plusculum mellis aut mulsi adiciunt oleumque viride inrorant[ur]. Atque ita fasciculo apii viridis contegitur.
[Pausean olive] is especially suitable for the preparation of preserves which are served at the more sumptuous repasts; for, when required, it is taken out of the jar and, after being crushed, blends with any other seasoning you like. Most people, however, cut up finely leeks and rue with young parsley and mint and mix them with crushed olives; then they add a little peppered vinegar and a very little honey or mead and sprinkle them with a little green olive-oil and then cover them with a bunch of green parsley.
Latin Text from V. Lundström (1902-1917), translation from Cathy Kaufman, Cooking in Ancient Civilizations.
The specific recipe below for Epityrum is based on Columella (12:49:5).
- Giacosa, Ilaria Gozzini. A Taste of Ancient Rome. Rand Corporation, 1994, p. 59-60.
- Kaufman, Cathy K. Cooking in Ancient Civilizations. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, p. 175.
Olive Dip - Epityrum
- 1 cup Green Olives Pitted
- 1 tbsp Leek Raw
- 1 tsp Rosemary Leaves, Fresh
- 0.5 tbsp Parsley Leaves
- 8 leaves Mint Fresh
- 1.5 tbsp Wine Vinegar
- 0.5 tsp Black Pepper Coarsely Ground
- 2 tsp Honey Liquid
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil Extra Virgin
- Combine all of the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until a finely chopped mixture is achieved.
- For a more authentic experience and texture, instead of using the food processor, finely chop the olives, leek, rosemary, parsley, and mint and mix with wine vinegar, black pepper, honey and olive oil.
- Wine vinegar from Spain, either Sherry or Sweet Moscatel, which have a stronger taste, or Sweet Pedro Ximenez vinegar, which has a milder taste. All of the above mentioned vinegars are made based on recipes closer to what the Romans would have used. A very good brand of Spanish wine vinegars is Los Villares, which can be purchased in Whole Foods Supermarkets throughout the US.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Greece, especially Crete. Just like wines, olive oil taste varies based on the variety of olives used and the region where they were grown. The Romans imported the majority of their olive oil from Greece, which was considered to be of the highest quality. A few different brands of Greek olive oil can be purchased in Whole Foods Supermarkets throughout the US.
- Green olives from Greece, usually of Chalkidiki (Halkidiki) Chondroelia variety, that come from Chalkidiki region, near Mt. Athos in Northern Greece. Divina and Delallo are good brands that are sold in Whole Foods and other supermarkets in the US. For more information on olive varieties available for sale in the US see FoodMatch.com. Chalkidiki variety dates back to the 15th century and is not an original olive variety that the Ancient Romans and Greeks would have eaten. But it tastes very good and is grown in the same region as where the best olives in the Roman empire came from.
- Souri green olives from Israel. This olive variety dates to thousands of years ago, and is one of the original olive varieties that were available in Israel during the Roman period. This variety originates in Lebanon near the city of Tyre (Tzur), but due to Arabic pronunciation of Tzur as Sur, they became known as Souri. In Israel today, they are called Suri (סורי), which means Syrian Olives, instead of Tsuri (צורי), Tyrian Olives. It should be noted that Souri olives are very bitter. There are a few brands from Israel today that sell these olives in metal cans, however they have imparted metal taste from the cans, and should not be used for any of the authentic recipes. A relatively good brand of gourmet Israeli Souri olives sold in glass jars is called Oxygen. It can be purchased online at MakoletOnline.com.