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.
- Here’s the reading challenge!
- Preparing the Travel and Reading list
- 1. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
- 2. Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph
- 3. J.R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
- 4. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
- 5. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
- 6. Tiziano Terzani, A Fortune-Teller Told Me
- 7. Sujata Maasey, The Sleeping Dictionary
- 8. David Lodge, Small World
- 9. Stephen King, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft
- 10. Lonely Planet, The World: A Traveller’s Guide to the Planet
- Final words… (and here is where I cheated!)
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
Let me know in the comments below!