Crete Extra Virgin Olive Oil: All You Need to Know

Discover every secret about Crete’s olive oil. Did you know there are two main olive varieties in Crete, and that they are completely different from the olives growing in the rest of Greece? Olives in Crete produce that top quality oil that gives a completely different taste to anything you try, and Cretan Extra Virgin Olive Oil has unique healthy characteristics you will want to know all about.

Bottle of olive oil, olives

This article may have affiliate links to products and services that I use. If you make a purchase through these links, it might earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Cretan Olive oil back in time

Research has found that origins of the olive tree can be traced as much as 60,000 years back in history. And the island of Crete might as well be the place where everything began. It was in Crete where the oldest container for storage of olive oil was found, and it is roughly from the year 3500 BC.

In Minoan times, for instance, the olive tree was not only a source for oil, but it would be used as fuel and even the wood as a raw material for construction of boats and houses. And that’s not everything, it’s believed also that once the olives had been pressed and the oil extracted, the remaining pulp, leaves, and cores would make a great substance to feed cattle and domestic animals.

In history, olive oil played a key role in everyday life, it would even be used to lit lamps, and the wood for heating purposes as well.

The olive tree in Ancient Greece

Monumental ancient olive tree, Kavousi, Lasithi.

The olive tree provided for countless basic needs. It didn’t take long for it to become an iconic image of wealth and prosperity. Olives were given to the Gods in Ancient Greece as a precious offering.

For instance, on top of the Acropolis, in Athens, there’s a sacred olive tree related to the legend according to which, during a contest between Poseidon and Athena to rule over the city, goddess Athena chose an olive tree as a gift to the city, which the Athenians preferred over Poseidon’s gift.

Full of unique qualities, the olive tree since then stands as a symbol of victory, peace, and abundance. Its leaves have for ages crowned the heads of kings and victorious athletes in the Olympic Games.

Discover the ancient olive trees of Crete

Kavousi, Lasithi

A few kilometers towards the east from Agios Nikolaos, in the region of Lasithi, there’s a legendary olive tree in the small village of Azoria, just a kilometer away from Kavousi, a village close to the Havgas Gorge.

Azoria treasures what’s probably the oldest olive tree in Crete. And it doesn’t come as a surprise to locals that the tree is still alive and producing hundreds of olives each year.

The trunk of this tree reaches a maximum diameter of 4.9 meters, with a circumference of 14.2 meters, and it’s believed to have been planted around 1100 BC.

Vouves, Chania

Not far from Chania, close to the mountains in the region, there’s a huge extension of olive trees in the Protected Denomination of Origin area of Kolymbari. The mild weather conditions of the island combined with the microclimate of Kolymbari give life to a top environment that results in high-quality olive crops.

There’s a village in the region known as Vouves, where an ancient olive tree has an impressive trunk with a circumference of 12.5 meters and a diameter of more than 4.5 meters. It produces the tsounati variety of olive.

There are two main varieties of olives in Crete that produce the local top-quality extra virgin olive oil, the tsounati variety, with a walnut yet delicate taste, and the koroneiki variety, more fragrant, fresh, and spicy, ideal for salads.

In the village, it’s also possible to visit the Olive Tree Museum and take a look at old tools and even a stone olive mill.

Visiting an olive oil factory in Kolymbari

Did you know that about 5 % of the World’s olive oil comes from Crete? It does! Learning this fact made me curious, so I looked for a place in the region where I could be able to learn a bit more…

Right in the heart of Kolymbari, and for over five generations, the Dimitriadis family specializes in estate-produced, stone-milled, cold-pressed organic olive oil.

But what makes this place special, is that they combine all the benefits of the traditional methods for oil extraction in full respect of the environment. The company is called Biolea, and it’s one of the very few companies on Crete still producing extra virgin olive oil with this slow method. The impressive traditional stone mill, still in use, fascinated our children.

Biolea owns over 3000 olive trees from the koroneiki variety. Olives in Crete are very small, which makes it especially resistant to the island’s rough soil, drought weather, and high temperatures.

The company doesn’t put quantity over quality. Biolea makes a reduced quantity of extra virgin olive oil annually (about 20,000 liters per year, which does not seem a lot when compared to other industrialized companies producing over 300,000 liters per year. This choice allows them to maintain very high quality standards.

Biolea’s olive oil is extra virgin, young, and fresh. Their method involves cold-pressing while they do not filter their oil. A method that remains close to the most ancient traditions and a winning recipe to have an oil with every healthy property in it.

Tasting extra virgin olive oil from Biolea

During our oil-tasting session, Chloè, the youngest in the family, introduced us to new tastes. In fact, they don’t only produce an incredibly tasty, mild and sweet, extra virgin olive oil. We also discovered two fascinating surprises…

Nerantzio

A type of olive oil that is made by adding whole fresh bitter oranges to the mill. These oranges release an exotic punch of orange blossom and a teasing touch of orange skin.

Lemonio

This is is an aromatic olive oil that Biolea produces cold-pressing koroneiki olives with whole fresh lemons in the stone mill. A fabulous oil that explodes with an intense lemon zest aroma and a lasting aftertaste of freshly crushed lemons.

Lessons about extra virgin olive oil

During our visit, we learned a few things that come in handy when it’s time to pick you next bottle. When you go olive oil shopping, first of all, take a look at the label.

Extra Virgin

The first word to look for on the label is VIRGIN. Definitions as “pure olive oil”, “white olive oil”, “good olive oil” are simply blends.

The second word to find is EXTRA and it has to do with acidity. A level between 0,0 and 0,8 % qualifies the oil as extra virgin.

But careful! Having a label that reads Extra Virgin is not enough! These two words, even if important, don’t account for harvest date: olive oil is at its best in the first two years of its harvest.

“Extra Virgin” does not account for heat either. Cold pressing must be done under 27 °C so the oil still maintains all its qualities.

Pressing, extraction, origin of olives

A step beyond is the distinction between cold press and cold extraction. Modern systems process olives through cold extraction using a chopper. This needs high quantities of water reducing the final quality.

On the other hand, a cold press manages to separate the olive from its skin much better than a chopper, producing olive oil that tastes sweeter, milder and almost buttery.

Finally, look at the origin. If olives come from Protected Designation Origin Areas chances are your olive oil is indeed top class.

You can learn more about Biolea, getting in touch with them.

Discover Crete and its Extra Virgin Olive Oil with these Tours:

The Miracle of Wine and Olive Oil: (from Chania) This 6-hour tour takes you to family wineries and an olive oil factory on a trip from Chania. Check reviews and book it here.

Olive Oil Tasting with Cretan Food Pairing: (from Rethymnon) This 3-hour tour includes an olive oil tasting experience under the shade of real olive trees. You will learn how to taste olive oil and you will also enjoy a food pairing of local products whilst you learn about the long olive oil history in Crete. Check it here.

Olive Oil Tasting Experience: (from Heraklion) One of the most conveniently-priced olive oil tours you will find on the island! You will discover the flavors of olive oil, at the base of the Cretan diet. Along with knowledgable guides, you will sample various olive oils and learn about its origins. Book in this link.

Did you know any of these facts about Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
L
et me know in the comments below!

  • Pin for Later
Olives
Old olive tree
Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

About the Author

Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!

40 thoughts on “Crete Extra Virgin Olive Oil: All You Need to Know”

  1. Such an interesting article about the Greek olive oil! It definitely makes a dish or especially a salad much better. I haven’t heard of this company but will keep an eye. I had to make my own research and read about the different types of olive oil when I go shopping. But it is great that you’ve explained it to people for easier shopping experience and getting the best product.

    Reply
  2. This would have been such a neat experience unique to Greece! I would love to taste all the flavors. I had no idea what extra virgin meant, neat to know!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment. I am really glad this post makes the olive oil landscape a bit clearer for the consumer. Thanks a lot!!

      Reply
  3. Oh! As a mediterranean, nothing better than olive oil! And Creta seems a perfect place to learn about it 😉 i found it a nice family activity. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Esther. We are so blessed in the Mediterranean with our food… we sometimes forget how valuable that is.

      Reply
  4. This must have been an awesome experience. I am saying this not only because of the scenic location but because of the sheer antiquity of the cvilization in these regiions. And Olive of course was an integral part of the same.

    Reply
    • Exactly, the region… all the island is so rich in traditions (also culinary ancient traditions), as well as history and archaeological sites (over a hundred), you’ve got to be very careful when planning if you want to have a good picture of it. Thanks for leaving your comment!!

      Reply
  5. For someone who’s not a fan of cooking or anything related to food (but eating), I find this interesting. I didn’t know there was a lot about Olive oil. 🙂 Thanks for the informative post, made me suddenly conscious of what I eat, haha.

    Reply
    • I have come to stop enjoying cooking as well… Still I (like you) enjoy eating, mostly when flavors are genuine and authentic, and with Cretan olive oil this was the case. I enjoyed the visit, but I don’t have big plans for lots of cooking either 🙂

      Reply
  6. Olive oil actually makes an important ingredient into our cooking and it is really great to learn about its processing and traditional methods. It was interesting to know that there are different varieties and flavors too. Thanks for your tips on recognizing quality olive oil.

    Reply
  7. I stay up on the kitchen during wekeends when not traveling or writing. And I used to cook with olive oil and now you just gave me a lot of information I should have known from the beginning. Before, I thought having ‘Extra’ on the label means it went more processing as the usual. Had a good read, thanks!

    Reply
    • Yes… it’s funny to learn than the “more extra” it reads, the less processed it’s going to be. Glad you liked it 🙂

      Reply
  8. Learned so much on this post. Not only that it’s entertaining, the way the descriptions were given is easy to grasp. Couldn’t help but think how the varieties of plants go well with each other.

    Reply
  9. So interesting! I’m a new reader and think its so great the experiences you are sharing with your children. I only wish my parents had done the same thing! Looking forward to clicking around your site some more! Safe travels!

    Reply
    • The thing I love the most about this kind of trips with the kids is that, at the end of the trip, these are the experiences they tend to label as “my favorite part was…” 😀

      Reply
  10. WHoa, I didn’t know there is really much to learn about Olive oil. I like how the family-run business still continues with slow method of producing their Cretan olive oil. I would like to try the ones with lemons as well. To cap it off, thank you for giving us tips on how to recognize and buy good quality extra virgin olive oil. Now I know what to get next!

    Reply
    • It was really my pleasure to write about this visit, it was a fun visit for all the family.
      And… the quality was indeed superb 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  11. I am trying to imagine how it will taste. Here were get couple of varieties of olive oil but never have I seen the LemoniO. Definitely must be tangy and should go well with warm toasts.

    Reply
  12. This is a very interesting and informative article. Loved reading about Olives the nuances of oil production. I would love to taste the LemoniO.

    Reply
  13. What a lovely day out with your kids. Its important they learn about how food is processed and made. We tend to avoid oil, but now I want lemonio on my hummos! Thank you for the tips on how to pick an olive oil.

    Reply
  14. Very interesting read! I only use olive oil in the kitchen but to this point I had no idea there are other important aspects beyond “extra” & “virgin” I should look into. It is sad to see mass production is slowly taking over small, family businesses everywhere in the world, yet great to see companies who focus on quality of their products over quantity. Thank you for sharing this post with us! 🙂

    Reply
    • It’s true, mass production is making us disregard quality and is taking over family business. It’s good at least to be aware of what we buy so that we can make informed decisions. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Reply
  15. Nice- One thing in that part of the world is the food. Fresh and just an awesome place for a clean and healthy meal. I need to go more often on Greek diet. Thanks for the tip on olive oil. Many Americans need to learn about that kind of stuff. Cheers.

    Reply
  16. As someone who has been to this part of the world and also fancy myself a (budding) chef, this looked like a super-interesting tour. The smells must have been incredible and it’s always a great party-piece when someone can recognize good olive oil! It’s also nice when a place keeps up the old traditions of production. Enjoyable post!

    Reply
  17. Nice one, you made me especially curious about LemoniO, I just wrote them to see if there is a way to buy it from Italy!
    We have a big tradition too in oil making, also in my area, but sometimes when traditions are too deeply-rooted, it seems like there’s no room for experimentation… That’s why I’d really like to try LemoniO and NarantziO! 😀

    Reply

Leave a Comment