News from the Olive Grove

During the olive harvest there is always competition among the olive oil producers to prove who has the best olive oil.

According to the official olive oil tasting criteria, the following three characteristics are found in good extra virgin olive oil: a fruity taste; a bitter bite; and a unique spiciness.

The fruitiness of the olive is a combination of aromatics and olive variety – from fresh unripened green olives to ones with a purplish tint (misconceived often as being black). (Koroneiki is considered the most aromatic of all olive oil producing varieties). Aromas vary from medium to intense.

Bitterness is a characteristic of olives that have been picked early. Usually these olives are green in colour or slightly purple. Although as consumers we are accustomed to seeing our table olives in darker shades, the olive oil from green olives (early harvest) have the most antioxidants. Moreover, the bitter taste indicates a fresher extra virgin olive oil, which boasts lower acidity. Therefore, it is best to pick your olives early otherwise you will have a greater yield of oil with less nutrients and no punch in taste. >

Picantiko (spicy) is the term given to olives picked at the beginning of the harvest. These olives give off a spicy but pleasant feeling in the mouth. The balance of bitter and spicy qualities has positive organoleptic characteristics in fresh olive oil. Fresh olive oil has an aftertaste rich in fruitiness and body. It is when these aromas disappear that olive oil is considered old and with less nutrients.

Weather plays an important role during the olive harvest. From October to December, depending on the olive variety and the altitude, the environment remains a continual challenge to farmers. In early November, a frost hit higher elevations (where we produce) for forty-eight hours causing substantial damage. Cold weather shrinks the olive and makes it raisin-like. The fruit is, therefore, dried out of all its moisture and when the weather returns to normal seasonal temperatures (around 20 celcius) the olive looks rotten.

The following two weeks have been critical. Thankfully the sunny warm weather has come back. But as there are no guarantees as to how long it will last we are in the groves pruning and picking from early morning until sunset in order to get the fresh picked olives to the mill. This is intensive work because there are a number of things that must be done to ensure the quality of our product.

On the 23rd of November an unforgiving black cloud came with vengeance and with it a farmer's worst enemy – hail! Our Kalamata olives were worst hit. Hail the size of hazelnuts plummeted from the heavens for 15 minutes battering the olives and damaging 30% of our harvest. We pray and hope that the second half of the harvest will be glitch-free. We are expecting another good year for excellent olive oil with really low acidity (around 0.23). Anything under 0.30 is considered tops by olive oil standards (extra virgin olive oil standards is 0.8% acidity or less).

This year the olive oil production in Greece , however, is on the low cycle. This means the trees are producing less than 50%. On the other hand, Spain is expected to have a record-breaking crop, while the rest of the Mediterranean olive oil producing countries seem to have an acceptable 2006 harvest.

Last year olive oil prices hit their highest in the past ten years. This has occurred for several reasons. First and foremost, the producers became greedy and instead of selling, to take advantage of a healthy profit, they decided to store it hoping to get more money. They were proven wrong. I guess gambling on a year's hard work is not such a good idea. On the other hand, high prices have driven a lot of olive oil consumers to turn to seed oils. Bad choice. But not everybody can absorb price increases.

I feel I must remind you that olive oil, when it is fresh, cultivated organically, not genetically modified, and pressed at low temperatures, is a blessed food you can trust eating daily. Furthermore, the health benefits are enormous. Over the years we have tried to educate people and answer their numerous questions. There is one thing we have continually insisted upon – not to compromise on the quality of the olive oil you purchase. This is the only way to prevent the shelves from being weighed down by inferior products. It is a good idea to stay away from those cheap and doubtful olive oils as their health benefits are non-existent. Golden olive "Eleni" is a very high quality olive oil and we take all precautions necessary to ensure our product remains consistent and to your satisfaction. We have worked diligently to do so for the past ten years and hopefully with your support we will succeed in raising the standard altogether.

Helen & I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a healthy & prosperous New Year.

Basil Koutalianos

Basil Olive Oil Products Ltd.


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