The Mindful Production Behind an Award-Winning Peloponnesian Producer

For three generations the Gyftakis family has crafted extra virgin olive oil in one of the most fertile regions of Greece. Over time, they have learned to let nature take its course and attentively reap its rewards.
George Gyftakis
Oct. 12, 2020
Costas Vasilopoulos

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Flanked by moun­tains and the sea, thou­sands of Koroneiki olive trees dom­i­nate the land­scape of the south­west­ern coast of the Peloponnese penin­sula, with their green and sil­ver foliage glit­ter­ing under the bright Mediterranean sun.

At Little Gypsy Farms, a mod­est but viva­cious pro­ducer jug­gles sev­eral respon­si­bil­i­ties: expertly craft­ing award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil, while vocally pro­mot­ing qual­ity food pro­duc­tion and healthy eat­ing.

We con­trol the grow­ing, har­vest, press­ing and bot­tling, achiev­ing a high qual­ity that you can taste.- George Gyftakis, owner, Little Gypsy Farms

George Gyftakis’ phi­los­o­phy behind mak­ing olive oil is to let nature work its magic and reap the ben­e­fits at har­vest time, barely inter­ven­ing with the nat­ural growth and devel­op­ment of the olive trees.

Most farms have arti­fi­cial means to boost pro­duc­tion,” Gyftakis told Olive Oil Times. We find that let­ting nature take its course pro­duces a cleaner, more nutri­tion­ally dense end result.”

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Of course, this means some years will yield less oil,” he added. But many times the qual­ity, acid­ity and fla­vor pro­file will be bet­ter as the tree must work harder in years of light rain­fall to pro­duce fruit.”

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Wanderers search­ing for a home, it was only nat­ural that Gyftakis’ ances­tors set­tled down on this side of Peloponnese many years ago.

Our fam­ily, whose sur­name trans­lates to lit­tle gypsy,’ has always been a resource­ful tribe,” Gyftakis said. Our ances­tors took to the moun­tains, ful­fill­ing their name­sake with­out a home, before even­tu­ally set­tling on this fer­tile ground along­side the Mediterranean Sea.”

The Gyftakis fam­ily had reached what is now known as Messinia, the land of fair fruitage’ of the ancient Greeks and one of the most boun­ti­ful areas of the coun­try.

The unique soils in the west­ern side of the Peloponnese have a his­tory of cul­ti­va­tion dat­ing back 4,000 years,” Gyftakis said. This sea­side land between moun­tains in the south­ern Peloponnese of Greece pro­vided an advan­ta­geous micro­cli­mate, always a few degrees warmer in the win­ter with more rain­fall cour­tesy of the nearby peaks. Here, we began to grow.”

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Over the years, the Gyftakis fam­ily has been plant­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing heir­loom Koroneiki olive trees, con­tin­u­ously per­fect­ing their tech­niques and crafts­man­ship.

These days, they find them­selves mak­ing arti­sanal mono­va­ri­etal olive oil with a holis­tic pro­duc­tion approach, ensur­ing that the end result is always on par with the high­est stan­dards.

In a crowded mar­ket­place, we pro­vide fresh, authen­tic extra vir­gin olive oil with a trans­par­ent har­vest date and ori­gin, pro­duced from an inde­pen­dent farm,” Gyftakis said. Many con­sumers have never actu­ally enjoyed truly fresh extra vir­gin olive oil – one that has not been adul­ter­ated or mixed with oils from dif­fer­ent har­vest years, dif­fer­ent regions, dif­fer­ent vari­eties of olives or raised with­out heavy pes­ti­cides and irri­ga­tion.”

We con­trol the grow­ing, har­vest, press­ing and bot­tling, achiev­ing a high qual­ity that you can taste,” he added. We process the olives in small batches and store the olive oil in our wine cel­lars on the farms. The land, cold press­ing, grow­ing and stor­age tech­niques have been passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next.”

For Little Gypsy, har­vest­ing the olives is not labor but an oppor­tu­nity for a feast, with the whole fam­ily tra­di­tion­ally work­ing together to com­plete the job in time.

The time is right for build­ing a brand for a new gen­er­a­tion.- George Gyftakis, 

We begin the har­vest as a fam­ily – extended fam­ily as well – and we help to har­vest each fam­ily plot, call­ing on some out­side help dur­ing the har­vest weeks,” Gyftakis said. We view it as tra­di­tion, so we eat, drink and even cook in the fields dur­ing this time.”

This year, har­vest will be par­tic­u­larly fam­ily-ori­ented as out­side work­ers will not be help­ing as much, with COVID-19 pre­vent­ing many from trav­el­ing dur­ing the har­vest,” he added. We will be call­ing in lots of favors. COVID-19 will pose seri­ous chal­lenges to the har­vest over­all in Greece as out­side help with the har­vest is lim­ited.”

Most days dur­ing har­vest, the care­fully-selected olives arrive at a small, local mill for pro­cess­ing well before night­fall. Gyftakis said the result is a nutri­tion­ally supe­rior extra vir­gin olive oil, high in amino acids and polyphe­nols, yet low in acid­ity with a del­i­cate earthy fla­vor and a full nutty, arti­choke fin­ish.

I think most peo­ple do not real­ize that it can take more than 11 pounds (five kilo­grams) of olives, cul­ti­vated over the course of an entire year, to pro­duce just one bot­tle of our Gypsy Farms extra vir­gin olive oil,” Gyftakis said. The fla­vor achieved can be as sophis­ti­cated as a fine wine – with­out the snob­bery.”

Devotion and hard work have paid off for Gyftakis, who earned a Gold Award at the pres­ti­gious 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition last May.

Taking pride in his accom­plish­ment, he feels that the credit he received for his Little Gypsy Koroneiki oil is of the utmost impor­tance for small pro­duc­ers.

Winning a Gold Award has been an amaz­ing recog­ni­tion,” he said. We work all year to pro­duce a har­vest that comes only once so it is a long time in the mak­ing.”

Gyftakis believes the inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion pro­vides excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ties to edu­cate the pub­lic on what it takes to craft high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

Educated con­sumers are wak­ing up to count­less extra vir­gin’ olive oils that are mis­la­belled and sold at exceed­ingly low cost,” he said. I think the more peo­ple learn about olive oil, the more they under­stand what goes into cre­at­ing a qual­ity prod­uct.”

After his tri­umph at the 2020 NYIOOC, Gyftakis is hardly rest­ing on his lau­rels. The suc­cess of Little Gypsy Farms has not changed his ded­i­ca­tion to pro­mot­ing healthy eat­ing and nat­ural food pro­duc­tion.

Over time, we have become dis­con­nected from the food we con­sume, so prepar­ing meals for your­self gives a new sense of health aware­ness,” he said. The pan­demic has more peo­ple cook­ing from home, exper­i­ment­ing in the kitchen and curi­ous to ele­vate their eat­ing habits.”

Consumers want to con­nect with inde­pen­dent farm brands that sell directly from the source,” he added. While it has been an amaz­ing year of growth for the com­pany, we have stayed true to our roots shar­ing healthy, pure oil with con­sumers who care about qual­ity, taste and health. We look for­ward to incor­po­rat­ing Little Gypsy Farms as a sta­ple on the kitchen counter.”

From a wider per­spec­tive, Gyftakis believes that authen­tic Greek cui­sine has great poten­tial in many of the world’s largest con­sumer mar­kets, espe­cially as the Mediterranean lifestyle becomes increas­ingly pop­u­lar.

We have seen the suc­cess of Italy over the decades, cap­i­tal­iz­ing and rais­ing aware­ness on a Made in Italy’ brand, which has been great for con­sumers and the coun­try export­ing its tra­di­tional food prod­ucts,” Gyftakis said.

As for the Greek olive oil sec­tor, we think the time is right for build­ing a brand for a new gen­er­a­tion,” he added. Greece has become a sym­bol for a healthy Mediterranean diet, as peo­ple learn about the ben­e­fits of enjoy­ing authen­tic prod­ucts cre­ated by pas­sion­ate grow­ers.”

We have wit­nessed the expo­nen­tial growth in the United States of sta­ples, such as the Greek yogurt, over the years and we see an oppor­tu­nity to share the same kind of enthu­si­asm for a Mediterranean lifestyle with our Little Gypsy Farms extra vir­gin olive oil.”


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