` Olive Oil Flows at Harvest Time on Crete - Olive Oil Times

Olive Oil Flows at Harvest Time on Crete

Dec. 2, 2010
Curtis Cord

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Local offi­cials addressed jour­nal­ists from eight coun­tries to Crete today to open a three-day event pro­mot­ing the island’s olive oil abroad. The pro­gram was funded by the International Olive Council, the Institute for Olive Tree and Subtropical Plants of Chania, and the Cretan Quality Agreement.

After a wel­come by civic lead­ers a series of lec­tures offered an overview of the fac­tors that influ­ence olive oil qual­ity, the organolep­tic assess­ment of cer­tain local vari­etals, and data sup­port­ing the health ben­e­fits of Crete’s tra­di­tional diet, like the low mor­bid­ity of Cretans who are said to be the world lead­ers in olive oil con­sump­tion.

Visitors were treated to unusu­ally warm weather as olive trees, which seemed to be every­where on the 3,200 square mile island, were heavy with fruit. Harvesting was wit­nessed through­out the day, mostly by motor­ized rakes, on the steep hills that char­ac­ter­ize west­ern Crete’s cul­ti­va­tion. Bags full of the small pur­ple-green Koroneiki olives that dom­i­nate the region lay at the end of dri­ve­ways to be picked up. At dusk lines of pickup trucks formed at local mills and pal­lets piled with the day’s har­vest
waited out­side.

One mill was oper­ated by Terra Creta. Installed last year, the 2 mil­lion euro pro­cess­ing facil­ity cleaned, crushed and pressed in a con­tin­u­ous process fruit from about 15 regional farms, and its own trees which make up 8 per­cent of its total out­put, pro­jected to reach one mil­lion kilos this year.

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Terra Creta export man­ager Fotis Sousalis said 70% of the fir­m’s pro­duc­tion is from the des­ig­nated ori­gin Kolymvari of Northwestern Crete, and 15% is organic. Sales in the United States account for a third of annual rev­enue, fol­low­ing suc­cess­ful entries into regional super­mar­ket chains, most recently in the Southeast.

As the region’s pro­duc­ers face the daunt­ing mar­ket chal­lenges of his­tor­i­cally low world prices, stiff com­pe­ti­tion from emerg­ing play­ers and higher qual­ity expec­ta­tions by an increas­ingly edu­cated con­sumer, Sousalis hopes to forge long-term rela­tion­ships with local farms.

He said the area’s coop­er­a­tives closed years ago and a con­trac­tual col­lab­o­ra­tion was viewed as an impor­tant next step that would allow the com­pany and its part­ners to com­pete against such well-orga­nized com­peti­tors.

In a sign of the times, acid­ity lev­els and lot codes are appear­ing on labels from Cretan pro­duc­ers to assure buy­ers that the prod­uct is below the European Community’s 0.8% extra vir­gin thresh­old. Still, most lev­els observed were in the range of 5 to 6 per­cent which is con­sid­er­ably higher than the acid­ity com­monly asso­ci­ated with pre­mium olive oils. Of course on this island that pro­vides 5 per­cent of the world’s olive oil, there are pro­duc­ers mak­ing oils with a broad range of qual­ity and price lev­els.

Up a wind­ing road to a hill­top with an impos­si­bly per­fect view of the Mediterranean Sea, deep green olive groves and red cliffs, Biolea marked a con­trast to the whir of auto­matic pro­duc­tion.

Run by the hus­band and wife team of George Dimitriadis and Christine Lacroix, Biolea decided on a busi­ness approach guided by three prin­ci­ples: sus­tain­abil­ity, olive oil qual­ity and trans­parency.

Its hill­side groves are main­tained with­out irri­ga­tion. Inside, skilled work­ers demon­strated to vis­i­tors ancient and increas­ingly rare meth­ods using a stone mill and tra­di­tional presses. Dimitriadis said the count­less split deci­sions made by mill work­ers dur­ing the process result in an oil qual­ity hard to achieve by mod­ern means. Optimal milling times vary depend­ing on the ripeness of the fruit, for exam­ple.

Dimitriadis also noted that since his stone mill does­n’t com­pletely pul­ver­ize pits and skin, those ele­ments don’t con­tribute their bit­ter­ness to the oil as they do in mod­ern crush­ers result­ing, he said, in his oil’s nicer pro­file. He main­tains this gen­tler treat­ment retains more of the fruit’s health­ful prop­er­ties. A sam­pling of olive oil pressed just min­utes before did reveal a taste which was delight­ful: green, fruity, medium inten­sity and less bit­ter than other local tast­ings.

At every turn the inter­na­tional vis­i­tors were greeted with warm hos­pi­tal­ity and typ­i­cal Cretan fare which is as deli­cious as it is rich with extra vir­gin olive oil. It’s not hard to see how the aver­age Cretan con­sumes an astound­ing aver­age intake said to exceed 35 liters per year.
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