Making Olive Oil in Sun-Drenched Hot Spot

While Mykonos, Santorini, and the other small islands of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea are famous to vacationers, they also make olive oil the locals are proud of.

Santorini, Greece
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Nov. 28, 2017 09:18 UTC
Santorini, Greece

Not many places on Earth can match the beauty of Mykonos, Santorini, and the other islands of the Cyclades com­plex at the Aegean Sea. And rest assured that you will come across famous actors, pop stars, and other celebri­ties from around the world who every sum­mer flock to these small specks of land in the sea for a vibrant vaca­tion.

We want to redis­cover our roots in grow­ing and pro­duc­ing local qual­ity prod­ucts as an alter­na­tive to the mono­cul­ture of tourism.- Dimitris Rousounelos

Tourism is the main dri­ving force of the local econ­omy, but not many know that there is more to it than beau­ti­ful beaches, all night long club­bing, and non­stop amuse­ment.

The islands are prac­ti­cally water­less — reser­voirs, a few wells, and some desali­na­tion facil­i­ties cover the demand. The ter­rain is harsh and arid, but the locals there man­age to grow veg­eta­bles, cit­rus trees, vine­yards, and olive trees.

According to the Department of Agriculture of the Cyclades, the local pro­duc­tion of olive oil came in at around 430 tons for the 2016/17 har­vest­ing sea­son. Most of the small islands have their own olive oil mill: Syros has two oil mills and Amorgos, Ios, Milos, Sifnos, and Kimolos have one mill each that also cover the needs of other islands where no such facil­i­ties exist.

In Mykonos, EROS’ is the local coop­er­a­tive of wine and olive oil pro­duc­ers set to pro­mote the indige­nous vari­eties of wine and the cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees.

Dimitris Rousounelos, a food writer and the head of the coop­er­a­tive, spoke with Olive Oil Times about mak­ing olive oil on the island and the dif­fi­cul­ties the pro­duc­ers face.

Due to the mor­phol­ogy of the island, there are no extended olive groves here. Olive trees are planted in con­fined places or on the edges of other cul­ti­va­tions. This is also because the land is more valu­able for touris­tic devel­op­ment than agri­cul­tural pur­poses.” he noted.

During the last 12 years our coop­er­a­tive has given away about 15,000 olive trees and I cal­cu­late that today there are around 30,000 trees on the island. We try to occa­sion­ally water the trees despite the dry ter­rain. The cul­ti­var used is the Koroneiki and we also have the Kalamon and Amfissas cul­ti­vars for table olives”, he said.

Even though the cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees is lim­ited on the island, Rousounelos was very enthu­si­as­tic about it and said, We have already orga­nized three sem­i­nars and tast­ing events on olive oil. Our oil meets high stan­dards but can­not be clas­si­fied as extra vir­gin yet because the olives are shipped for pro­cess­ing to Tinos, Andros, and some­times to mills in Attica. So the time required for pro­cess­ing degrades our prod­uct to lower cat­e­gories”.

Harvesting on the island begins in mid-October and ends in late November, although some olives are ready to be har­vested by late September.

Several pro­duc­ers would like to begin har­vest­ing sooner than usual, in order to get oil of bet­ter qual­ity and fra­grance, but they have to be syn­chro­nized with the oil mills on the other islands which open in October,” Rousounelos said.

We hope that by next year we will have a munic­i­pal mill here. This will be a long-awaited achieve­ment and a great boost for the local olive oil pro­duc­tion in terms of quan­tity. But the best part is that it will enable us to finally make the extra vir­gin olive oil of Mykonos, a big plus for our every­day table and for the restau­rants and hotels that will be able to serve local EVOO to their cus­tomers. We want to redis­cover our roots in grow­ing and pro­duc­ing local qual­ity prod­ucts as an alter­na­tive to the mono­cul­ture of tourism,” he con­cluded.

In Santorini, wine is the main prod­uct of the island, but accord­ing to the local agri­cul­tur­ist Giorgos Skopelitis, the olive trees have started to advance expo­nen­tially dur­ing the pre­vi­ous years.

There are a lot of olive trees on the island and they get more and more every year. What hap­pens here is that the olive groves are scat­tered all around, so one can­not eas­ily com­pre­hend the mag­ni­tude of the groves because they are frag­mented. And this is why we do not have a clear view of the exact acres uti­lized for the cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees,” Skopelitis told us.

The Koroneiki cul­ti­var is used in Santorini and the har­vest usu­ally starts in late October. The olive trees are not watered since water resources are scarce. After all, it is com­mon knowl­edge that non-irri­gated olive trees give the best oil although the oil com­ing out here is usu­ally clas­si­fied as vir­gin since we do not have the means to make extra vir­gin olive oil,” Skopelitis added.

There is a small oil mill on the island which oper­ated for a few years but is now idle because it had some prob­lems acquir­ing an oper­at­ing license. The local pro­duc­ers have their olives shipped to Naxos, Ios, or even Crete. This is obvi­ously a prob­lem and it would be a huge advan­tage for them if the mill could open again allow­ing them to pro­duce olive oil of higher qual­ity with­out send­ing the crop away.”


Mykonos, Santorini, and all the so-called small islands of the Cyclades com­plex have their fair share of mak­ing olive oil, either by grow­ing olive trees or by pro­cess­ing olives. For the cur­rent year, a sub­sidy of more than €9 mil­lion ($10.74 mil­lion) of European Union and state funds will be pro­vided to local pro­duc­ers as an incen­tive to keep their tra­di­tional olive groves and not switch to another kind of cul­ti­va­tion.

Their con­tri­bu­tion to the total olive oil pro­duc­tion of Greece may be small, but the islands show that olive trees exist even on inhos­pitable ter­rain and, with a lit­tle care and love they can give back tons of olive oil.


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