Journey of discovery

a definition of extra virgin olive oil:

'An age-old food with space-age qualities that medical science is just beginning to understand."

Tom Mueller, author of  Extra Virginity

Packed and ready to go, Annette (my photographer / granddaughter) and I set out on our 10 week search for the truth about EVOO. As the funds for this expedition are primarily destined for the EVOOs, We are traveling light. (In fact sometimes those backpacks felt awfully heavy.)

Think of the infinite variety of roses for a moment, so you will understand the many many hundreds of different types of olive trees. From Georgia, Texas and California to China, from Australia to Chili, from the Mediterranean region as a whole, to Japan, wherever olive trees will grow you will find them. Some have been growing for over 4000 years while others are probably being planted somewhere at this very moment.  EVOOs special health  giving properties as well as the growing awareness of the general  public has prompted the spread of many of the newer groves.

On trees new and old, the olives are waiting to be picked.

Machines are waiting for the harvest,

empty tanks are waiting to be filled,

empty hoppers and conveyor belts wait.

I expect farmers will understand this best of all. The rest of us can only imagine how, after a full year of nurturing and checking & double checking every aspect that can be influenced by ourselves; the watering in times of drought,(not too much nor too little); the fertilizing and pruning at just the right time & in just the right way, how in the end it will be the weather we cannot influence, that will determine to what extent our crop is either a success or failure.


A fertilizing system as old as time and as new as tomorrow.

 It takes a special breed to strive for perfection every year, working with shifting variables.  The chess champion, the Olympic gold medal winner & these farmers all have the same dream and determination. They will be, or create, the best. You & I are the happy beneficiaries, because never, in the history of man, has EVOO been so perfect. Advances in equipment have made a real difference and this has been because of those special farmers. Although different producers have different dreams of how the future will evolve at their company, they don’t so much compete against each other, as cooperate among themselves  to achieve this.

Now lets move from Roses to Bananas. Imagine the taste difference between  a green, yellow and brown banana. The early harvest is the same as that perfect yellow banana, and you want to pick and preserve the taste of it at that moment. Nature will not alter anything to help you. The banana will continue to ripen whether you pick it or not, and as it ripens the taste and chemical balance will change. Olives are a fruit subject to the same natural forces as bananas. That early harvest is the premium crop. Olives will continue to ripen and continue to be harvested BUT the oil they produce will NOT be the same as  the oil from those first pickings. It will not have the same chemical balance. (Please remember the purpose of this journey of discovery. )

Olives do not all ripen at the same time. Those on the south side (in the Northern Hemisphere) will ripen ahead of those on the north, so pickers may have to revisit trees more than once. The harvest is very labor intensive,  although machines have been introduced that are useful in different ways. In extreme cases the groves have been planted in a manner similar to some vineyards, allowing machines to go down the rows harvesting from above. The olives go directly into a waiting truck and back to the plant for crushing through to filtering and bottling. The O-LIVE company in Chili has a web page with a description of this process.

On the other hand ancient trees are too brittle to tolerate any machinery. The machine's vibration  could break or crack branches, so pickers are necessary. These trees often have something special to add to  EVOO. They may be near a different type of tree, an almond or orange perhaps, and when the trees are blossoming and pollen is blowing about, they may pick up a certain something that adds to the complex balance that tasters will enjoy discovering. 

An orange tree in an olive grove.

You have early and late varieties of roses, and roses of the same family that bloom at different times because of their locations and circumstances. Olive trees are the same, but in the end it will always be the weather that determines  exactly when the fruit is ready to be harvested. Annette and I didn't know when that time would be, and neither did the growers. They could test the olives every day to see if the time was right and we would just have to wait until they told us the time was 'NOW'. Each grower's olive trees were of a different variety to the others, and were in different growing regions as well. We met the principals, discussed objectives, asked questions and then went to await the start of the harvest. We began at the end of September, and the first day of harvest in Kritsa was near the end of the first week of December.

My focus was solely on the early harvest; that of half ripe fruit. Health properties, Freshness and Taste were everything. Everyone & everything, inside & out, waited.