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Greece is the second largest olive oil producing nation in the world (after Spain and before Italy), but the first in consumption, coming in nearly 24 quarts per person a year. So you are going to see a lot of olive oil in Greece! Here are some pointers.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is olive oil that has been extracted directly from the olive in a way that preserves its natural taste. This method of extraction is called “cold pressed” or “cold extracted.” It ensures the oil keeps the flavors that can be lost when exposed to high temperatures. EVOO is produced naturally—not refined nor treated with any chemicals—using a machine press within 24 hours of olive harvesting, resulting in specific organoleptic qualities that are reflected in its flavor and aroma. Color is not an indication of quality. Rather, EVOO is characterized mainly by its acidity—0.8% or less, with the best being under 0.3%. 80% of all Greek olive oil is extra virgin.
Cold-pressed olive oil is produced by a special process that fully preserves the delicate flavor. This oil results from the first press, when the olive paste is gently warmed to reach room temperature (27°C / 80°F). Higher heat would have the effect of negatively impacting the quality, flavor, aroma and low acidity of the resulting olive oil. Accordingly, in the production process of non-cold-pressed olive oil, the olive paste is often pressed a second time using hot water and steam to extract every last bit of oil, the heat during the second pressing having less-than-desirable results.
Generally, the varieties used for making EVOO are different from those used for table olives.
There are 10 main olive oil varieties. The most important, by far, especially in Crete and the Peloponnese, is the Koroneiki. Other important varieties are: Manaki and Athinolia (Peloponnese.), Tsounati (Crete), Valanolia (Lesbos).
Koroneiki is the most robust of the Greek varieties and the least demanding in terms of temperature, moisture, soil and care, which has made it a standout for high quality, reliable production. While grown mainly in the Peloponnese and Crete, the olive’s attractive qualities have made it the country’s most popular variety, accounting for 50-60% of total planted area.
In Greece, olive trees are cultivated in 50 out of the 54 municipalities and there are 16 PDO olive oil regions and 11 PGI olive oil regions. See the full list here.
Every grove produces slightly different olive oils, even if the variety is the same, but there are distinct regional differences.
Koroneiki olives thrive in the rocky, dry areas of the Peloponnese.
Crete leads the islands in the international market. This island boasts seven PDO regions as well as a PGI. Koroneiki dominates here, as it does on the mainland, but there are some local varieties such as Tsounati in Chania, Throumbalia in Rethymnon and Hondrolia in Heraklion. The flavors of the oils are quite varied.
Oils from Lesbos—based most notably on the Kolovi and Adramitiani olive varieties, both planted after the disastrous frost of 1850—exhibit a delicate sweetness of flavor and a trademark golden-yellow hue.
There are several categories of Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). PDO products are so called because they have specific regional characteristics and are produced by specific, traditional means, which make the product unique and not replicable elsewhere. All PDO products have a special EU insignia indicating that they are PDO. Each unit/jar/bottle etc. is numbered, to ensure quality control.
PGI (Protected Geographic Indication). A slightly less rigorous designation than PDO, referring to agricultural products tied historically or traditionally to and produced in a specific place. Such products are characterized by specific qualities relating to the place or its traditions.
Unlike wine and cheese however, both PDO and PGI olive oils do not have to be processed or packaged in their specifically designated areas.
Organic olive oil has been produced from olives that have grown without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Organic farming requires the cultivation without the use of synthetic chemicals or GMOs, relying on the rotation of crops for protection and prevention from pests, diseases, weeds and fertilizing the soil with only natural organic matter and minerals.
Greek for early harvest olive oil, pressed from unripe green olives harvested in the beginning of the picking season, usually around October. They are characterized by a bright green color and pleasantly bitter aftertaste. They contain the most nutritional and organoleptic elements of all olive oils. They should be consumed while fresh, within 2-3 months. After that, their intense flavor and organoleptic qualities begin to fade.
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