By Lisa Radinovsky
Olive oil is olive oil, right? Not to Florida-based Praful Mehta of Unity Brands, who believes “Greek olive oil is absolutely fantastic and unadulterated! We prefer Greek olive oil.”
Of course, country of provenance is just the first decision in choosing an oil; the next step is to select one of many varieties—anything from Koroneiki to Halkidiki, Amfissis to Olympia—and then one of the numerous olive oil producing regions that take pride in their products, from Crete and the Peloponnese to Mount Olympus and Northern Greece.
Maria Foule of the Almpantakis family’s Cretan Mill considers the Food Expo at the Metropolitan Expo Center near the Athens airport “an opportunity to meet our partners from all over the world at the same time and show them our new products.” Since 216 other exhibitors also displayed their olive oils, the 73,000 visitors to the Food Expo March 10 to 12 had the opportunity to check out a wide variety of Greek olive oils, along with an assortment of other foods and beverages.
standing out from the crowd
In the midst of 1,303 exhibitors, companies searched for ways to stand out. Olive oil companies such as Andriotis and Terra Creta attracted attention with beautiful, spacious stands highlighting striking photos of olive oil and olive trees. Noos Trade unveiled unusual light blue globe-shaped bottles for their Biosphere extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). E-la-won showcased an elegant 50 ml spray perfume bottle intended for high class hotels and gourmet restaurants. First presented at the Expo, this bottle fascinated many visitors, who stopped to inquire about the “perfume” and were surprised to learn they were admiring olive oil.
Perla extra virgin olive oil drops also held the gaze of curious Expo visitors. These colorful little spheres are completely natural products made of EVOO and extracts of aromatic oils, all encased in a gel made from agar (which comes from algae). Plain or flavored with lemon, thyme, chili, spiroulina, or truffle, the drops can make olive oil a “protagonist in dishes, for a synthesis of what we see and what we taste,” according to the Ev Gaia company’s Nektarios Taflanidis. He considers them part of “the future of high class cuisine and gastronomy.” The Perla olive drops were one of ten winners in the Olive Challenge innovation and entrepreneurship competition that culminated in a Demo Day at the Food Expo.
The top winner was the Olive Predictor developed by Dr. Prokopis Magiatis of the University of Athens, along with his team. This invention enables producers to predict the quality and amount of olive oil to be produced from an entire crop from just a few olives, which helps determine the best time to harvest. It includes a miniature olive mill and centrifuge that produce a small sample of oil in just half an hour, and a measuring device small enough to hold in one hand, which can check the oil’s quality in another half hour.
Amateur scientist, inventor, and olive oil producer Eftychis Androulakis of Pamako believes he is the only producer to use argon, an inert gas approved for use with foods, to protect olive oil from the oxidation that can ruin it both during the olive oil production process and while bottling. For five years, he has also been extracting oil from pitted olives, which is almost unheard of in Greece, using 100% pitted olives for the first time this year and consistently producing very healthy, high phenolic EVOO.
For a simpler intervention in the typical olive oil production process, the Greek Pony Farm looked to the past: its ponies take care of the grass cutting and fertilizer for the olive trees producing award winning extra virgin olive oils from their biodynamic farm in Messinia.
Down south in Crete, Kostas Kidonakis took a modern idea one step further. While conscientious harvesters take their olives to the mill the same day the fruit is gathered to produce the best quality olive oil, Kidonakis’s new product, One Day Oleum Crete (PDO Messara) EVOO, is unique in being harvested, milled, filtered, and bottled all in the same day, rather than over days, weeks, or months.
hope for the future
Both exhibitors at the Food Expo and participants in the Olive Challenge supported claims that Greece is increasingly a home for progress and creativity, and not just a land of economic crisis, thanks in part to the innovative, motivated people working in the Greek olive oil world today. Mediterranean diet expert and Filaios Olive Oil Society vice president Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou mentioned that the innovations presented in the Olive Challenge Demo Day showed that because of its young people, “there is hope” for Greece.
George Dimitriadis of Biolea, which uses an updated version of a stone mill and hydraulic press to produce olive oil on his ancestral land in Crete, has passed on his business to his daughter Chloe. Considering the younger generation of olive oil producers in Greece, he said the situation “looks much better today than 10 years ago,” since “you see new ideas, new direction; I see young people experimenting, taking risks.” He believes the young farmers are better educated and better prepared than the previous generation. “There is hope, because I see young people spearheading the quality movement.”
This “quality movement” was evident in many Food Expo conversations about olive oil companies’ and producers’ priorities. And even more so in the flavor of the incredible oils on offer.