Modern Techniques and Ancient Groves a Winning Combination for Solar Olives

The Lebanese producer has coupled traditional varieties and cultivation techniques with modern millign and marketing to produce an award-winning brand.

Photo: Karim Arsanios
May. 23, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis
Photo: Karim Arsanios

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On the edge of the vil­lage of Kour, in the rolling hills of north­ern Lebanon, sprawl the olive trees of Solar Olives.

Many of the trees have grown here, about 450 meters above sea level, for hun­dreds of years, planted in the 19th cen­tury in orderly rows on over­lap­ping ter­races rein­forced by but­tresses of dry-piled stones.

Sure, the design of the prod­uct or the tech­nol­ogy used to make our extra vir­gin olive oils might be very advanced, but tra­di­tion is the essence of what we do.- Karim Arsanios, owner, Solar Olives

Untouched by petro­leum-based fer­til­iz­ers or pes­ti­cides, the pro­duc­ers behind Solar Olives craft one of the world’s best olive oils from these trees.

This was evi­denced when the Lebanese pro­ducer earned a Gold Award at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for its organic del­i­cate Souri, which the judges said had tast­ing sen­sa­tions of flow­ers, vanilla, berry, red fruits and apple.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Tradition is so rel­e­vant to us,” Karim Arsanios, a chef and owner of Solar Olives, told Olive Oil Times.” Olive trees have been with us for mil­len­nia. So we try to infuse tra­di­tion into our prod­ucts. Sure, the design of the prod­uct or the tech­nol­ogy used to make our extra vir­gin olive oils might be very advanced, but tra­di­tion is the essence of what we do.”

Even the name of our prod­uct, Solar, has been cre­ated with tra­di­tion in mind,” he added. As we have joined sun, the sol, with a’ and r,’ which con­nect us to my par­ents who are not with us any­more and took care of the olive trees with so much pas­sion for so many years. We were so happy to learn of the Gold Award. It came as a beau­ti­ful sur­prise.”

Located in the heart of a fer­tile region where olives have been grown for mil­len­nia, the family’s size­able stone-walled coun­try house was built in the first half of the 19th cen­tury, when olive grow­ing started to assume a rel­e­vant role for the Arsanios fam­ily.

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Photo: Karim Arsanios

That expe­ri­ence, that knowl­edge has passed from one gen­er­a­tion to the next,” Arsanios said. In recent years, we added a few things and changed oth­ers, of course, but a fully organic approach and the con­stant atten­tion to the health of our olive trees are always there.”

We are lucky because we live in a region not far from the sea, so there are spe­cific min­eral con­tents in the alka­line soil,” he added. That also means that when it rains, the soil tends to have excel­lent water reten­tion. Plus, at our mod­er­ate alti­tude, win­ters are not too cold. In the sum­mer­time, it can be warm, but we still enjoy the breeze.”

Understanding that soil health is key to his suc­cess, Arsanios allows plenty of other veg­e­ta­tion to grow among the olive trees and allows his neighbor’s chick­ens to roam free as well.

Both of these tech­niques help Arsanios strengthen the bio­di­ver­sity of his olive groves while nat­u­rally keep­ing pests and pathogens in check.

Of course, you still need to go through the trees every day, look at them, prune them when needed,” he said. Of course, you have to check the olives as they grow, to remove those even­tu­ally attacked by insects, mak­ing sure the trees and their fruits are strong.”

While the fam­ily farm is steeped in tra­di­tion, the lat­est gen­er­a­tion is not afraid to make changes in their efforts to main­tain qual­ity. As a result, the tra­di­tional press was recently aban­doned in favor of tak­ing the olives to a new mill.

The fam­ily fur­ther inno­vated by chang­ing the sched­ule of their har­vest­ing oper­a­tions based on learn­ing about more up-to-date best prac­tices.

In recent years, I felt a few things needed to be changed,” Arsanios said. Once, we waited for the first rain to come in before pro­ceed­ing with the har­vest.”

I found that to be the most awk­ward time to har­vest, given the effects of rain on the trees, the olives and the oper­a­tions,” he added. So we set up a new approach, har­vest­ing much ear­lier than that, sac­ri­fic­ing some vol­ume but sig­nif­i­cantly enhanc­ing qual­ity.”

africa-middle-east-profiles-the-best-olive-oils-modern-techniques-and-ancient-groves-a-winning-combination-for-solar-olives-olive-oil-times

Photo: Karim Arsanios

The major­ity of the com­pa­ny’s olive trees are of the Souri cul­ti­var, which was once also known as Roman, a name pri­mar­ily used to show the ancient ori­gin of this vari­ety. Souri has been planted by the Arsanios fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions, with the youngest trees being slightly more than 20 years old.

Ninety-five per­cent of our trees are Souri. Although we have some Kalamata olives, these are only for self-con­sump­tion,” Arsanios said. We use Souri both for olive oil and table olives.”

The way we like to eat them in Lebanon is to har­vest the olives, and three months later, hav­ing rested in a brine, they have a dis­tinct bit­ter­ness paired with the spici­ness of the brine,” he added. The same hap­pens with our extra vir­gin olive oil. It has a dis­tinct bit­ter note; still, it also shows some sweet­ness.”

According to Arsanios, Souri olives show slightly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics through­out the har­vest sea­son.

It takes us a month to com­plete our har­vest,” he said. During that period, you can see the fruit ripen­ing, going from green to yel­low and finally to black. These stages come with chang­ing aro­mas and tastes, a dif­fer­ent bal­ance of Souri’s unique char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

Every day, the olives are trans­formed, and the result­ing olive oil is stored in steel con­tain­ers, pro­tected from oxy­gen, light and tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions.

Arsanios also mooted a poten­tial expan­sion of Solar Olives, with the pos­si­ble addi­tion of new olive groves con­tain­ing dif­fer­ent vari­eties. We would like to begin exper­i­ment­ing with blends,” he said.

africa-middle-east-profiles-the-best-olive-oils-modern-techniques-and-ancient-groves-a-winning-combination-for-solar-olives-olive-oil-times

Karim Arsanios

Due to the spe­cific qual­i­ties of the soil and the gen­er­ous cli­mate, Solar Olives cur­rently does not need to irri­gate its trees. However, the cli­mate is chang­ing, and the need to invest in drip irri­ga­tion sys­tems might not be far off.

Maybe we will need to turn to irri­ga­tion in the years to come because of cli­mate change,” Arsanios said. Things are chang­ing. We do not know how cli­mate change will affect farm­ing, but we can see in north Lebanon wild­fires hap­pen­ing ear­lier in the sea­son. As we expect very hot sum­mers, wild­fires will be some­thing to con­sider.”

Another sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for the pro­ducer is pro­mot­ing an olive oil cul­ture in the coun­try. Despite being home to some of the old­est olive trees in the Mediterranean, and known since Phoenician times for its olive oil trade, Lebanon is cur­rently a tough mar­ket for extra vir­gin olive oil.

Not many Lebanese are cur­rently explor­ing the dif­fer­ent health and fla­vor pro­files of excel­lent extra vir­gin olive oil,” Arsanios said. Most of them will buy cheaper olive oils.”

While part of the prob­lem is the result of the cur­rent eco­nomic cri­sis that has crip­pled the econ­omy, Arsanios believes much has to be done to spread olive oil cul­ture.

Having said that, we feel lucky as we nur­ture our rela­tion­ship with the land,” he said. We live in such a fast-paced hyper-cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, and we tend to be sev­ered from nature. We do not know what we eat, where food comes from.”

That is why we are work­ing on the idea of trans­form­ing this beau­ti­ful ancient house into a farm­house where guests could enjoy our beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings, walk among the trees, taste excel­lent olive oil and come back to the roots,” Arsanios added.

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Photo: Karim Arsanios

Last year, Solar Olives orga­nized the olive pick­ing day” where guests could explore the groves and taste Arsanios’ olive oil-cen­tric recipes. It was an amaz­ing day, and we will do that this year as well,” he added.

However, it will take more than Arsanios to pro­mote an olive oil cul­ture, and the pro­ducer will need help from his neigh­bor­ing olive farm­ers.

When we intro­duced those inno­va­tions, some of them were very per­plexed. Now that they see the results of our organic approach and the tech­niques we apply to take care of the trees, they are also becom­ing inter­ested in that,” he said.

Slowly, peo­ple might be start­ing to real­ize how big a dif­fer­ence there is between lower qual­ity olive oil and excel­lent high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils,” Arsanios con­cluded.


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