Terra Creta export manager Fotis Sousalis
An olive oil-based energy shot, an extra virgin bottle with whole olives inside, a premium olive oil with maximum acidity of 0.2 percent, and a high altitude EVOO are among new products planned by Crete’s biggest olive oil producer, Terra Creta.
From its base in the Aegean Sea – and thanks to a capital injection from two new shareholders – the 11 year-old company plans to branch out worldwide with beefed up branding and marketing, and even better quality.
Demand for good oil
“Being on Crete favors production of excellent olive oils but that doesn’t make us complacent” Terra Creta export manager Fotis Sousalis told Olive Oil Times at a recent conference organized by the company on the Greek island’s west coast.
“All our production is EVOO but we aim at producing a truly excellent oil. Our sales have been growing by an average of 13 percent a year for the last five years and we see great demand for good olive oil.”
“We also know there’s room to improve because we see how the olives arrive at our mill, so we know how much potential is lost” he said.
Pruning critical to quality
After 1,050 tons in 2010, then just 400 tons last year – its worst harvest in 30 years – this year Terra Creta expects to produce about 1500 tons of olive oil and all of it EVOO.
Its own estate within the Kolymvari PDO in Hania, western Crete, provides a quarter of its olive oil output and the rest comes from about 800 local farmers, each with 500-2000 trees with an average age of 80 years spread over 4-10 groves.
Harvesting is mainly with vibrating rakes and the fruit can’t all be processed at once so the trees are strategically pruned to stagger ripening.
It’s a balancing act – heavy pruning improves quality but reduces quantity – but is guided by intimate knowledge of the many micro-climates on the 3,200 square mile, mountainous island.
“We know all the fields and the kinds of olive oil different villages make” Sousalis said.
Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) tests of fruit development (fruit moisture, olive oil content and acidity level) are used to determine the ideal time to harvest each grove.
Olives analyzed before oil extraction
Terra Creta aims to be traditional in cultivation and harvesting but modern in extraction.
“What’s happening in the mill is really novel” said Sousalis. “The main innovation is that we segregate the olives at the start, based on their acidity, peroxide level and olive oil content.”
Representative samples of each farmer’s delivery are collected at the first stage of processing, where leaves and twigs are separated from the olives, and analyzed on-site within a minute via NIRS.