olive oil

Crete’s treasure … Olive Oil

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Like the sun and the mild climate, the olive tree is a part of the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Archeologists have found that olive oil has been produced on Crete since 3.500 BC and it was used as medicine, offerings to the Gods, fuel for oil lamps and of course, for cooking. Spread into northern Europe with the rise of the Roman Empire, olive oil also found its way into rich households and churches. Throughout the Christian world, it was used in church ceremonials and in Orthodox Christianity it was the only fuel allowed for oil lamps in church.

Nowadays, due to the wide interest in the so called “Mediterranean Diet”, olive oil is a “must have” in any well stocked kitchen.

From the olive to the oil

Let's start by saying it takes a lot of work! The harvest season lasts all winter, and preparations begin in early autumn. The ground under the trees has to be cleared of big stones, fallen branches and the bushes and weeds that have grown over the summer months. Only then can the big nets on which the ripe olives will fall, be laid down. If the trees are young or not too high, the olives are often beaten down in one go with long sticks, this guarantees excellent quality oil though the taste is on the bitter side, but more often the process is left to nature; the olives falling when they are ripe. Over the winter, about every 10 days or so, the fallen olives will be gathered.

There are several different ways of processing olives to obtain the oil, the one described below being the preferred method in our region.

The olives are transported to the press in large jute sacks. At the factory, as a first step, leaves, twigs, small pebbles and everything else that is not “olive” is sorted out. The olives are then washed and ground, the emerging pulp being thoroughly stirred before a centrifuge separates the oil from the solids. Freshly extracted oil has a bright green colour but is still cloudy; however, the remaining fine particles will settle over time or be filtered out when the oil is bottled. 

The taste and quality of olive oil is determined by various factors; the kind of olive, condition of gathered olives, time between harvest and processing, way of storing and cleanliness, all playing vital roles for the final outcome.

Good olive oil is highly recommended for cooking, roasting, baking and, of course, seasoning. Contrary to common belief it is also suitable for frying, having a high smoke point of 190°C, but needs to be changed after a few times of use. The oil should always be stored in a cool and dark place in order to preserve its characteristic properties, taste and fragrance.

Olive trees themselves are extremely long lived and difficult to kill off, even with 80% of the tree burned, some trees can still grow new branches and can, in time, produce olives again, while the very hard and resistant wood with its beautiful veining is used for crafting kitchen utensils and furniture. 

Text © by Heike Drakakis  |  go visit  Drakakis olive oil 

Some known olive trees are 3.000 years old

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One of the oldest known trees in the area can be found in Anisaraki, near Kandanos: its measured circumference (12,3 m) and diameter (6,8 m) allows it to be estimated to be about 3.000 years old and it has been classified as 'monumental' by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities of Crete (SEDIK). 

In the past the tree was referred to as being "dekaochtoures," an olive tree that produced 18 'mistata' (1 mistata = 12 kilo) of oil per year; so in its best years this olive tree used to produce 220 kilos of olive oil a year. In spite of its age, the tree still produces up to 100 litres of olive oil every year.