My grandmother used to say that if we have olive oil and flour readily available we won’t go hungry. She should know, she had lived through the Asia Minor catastrophe, World War II and the Nazi occupation of her home town of Xanthi, and had emigrated to the United States with her family. She had known hunger. Most of us have been fortunate enough not to know that kind of hunger, but in Greece, almost every home is stocked well with a couple cannisters of olive oil, usually from family orchards.
The same applies for my home as well. Even when I am travelling, there is a little bottle of homegrown olive oil with me at all times. It’s my portable home. Just knowing its there makes me feel “provided for” somehow.
Greece is the third largest olive producing country in the world but first in the production of extra virgin olive oil. Greece produces 80% of the world’s EVOO’s, Italy 45% and Spain 30%.
But what exactly is extra-virgin olive oil and what is it that makes it so?
An extra virgin olive oil is made simply by crushing olives and extracting the juice. The use of any chemicals or refinement is strictly prohibited. It is never mixed with other oils. To be more exact for an olive oil to be considered extra virgin it’s oleic acidity must not exceed 0,8%. But this is not the only characteristic.
Since nothing else goes into it, the quality of the olives used and the “terroir” play a big role in its quality – just like a fine wine. So, the next question is” why are Greek EVOO’s the best?
Climatic conditions and terrain play a major role, the amount of rainfall and sunlight each oil producing region receives annually. Olives are harvested by hand and great care is taken so that the fruit is not bruised. Olives are also taken directly to the olive press and not stored in crates. The oil is then extracted without the use of heat or any chemicals.
Color and aroma also play major roles. A new, freshly pressed oil should be a sweet green, while a more mature oil will take on a golden color. The taste of a fresh oil is slightly bitter and feisty. In this case, bitter is good!
In 2014, nineteen Greek olive oil brands were among the world’s best at last years New York International Olive Oil Competition. Most of those oils were produced by the Koroneiki olive variety which is grown mainly along the rocky, sun baked slopes of the Mani in the Peloponnese. One was made from the Makri olive variety which is grown in the northernmost olive producing territory of Greece. The producer claims that his olive trees are between 500 and 2500 years old which gives a strong taste and complexity of flavors. Isn’t that astounding though? To still eat fruit from a tree that fed ancient Greeks at one time???
In The Noble Olive part three – read about the world’s best Greek olive oils for 2014 and the fourteen, yes fourteen, different olive producing regions in Greece.
Till then buy Greek olive oil – you’ll never go hungry!