Tuesday, March 17, 2015

‘Twas the Season in Kalamata ~ The Olive Oil Season

Trees and buildings were decked out for Christmas, but it was the mountains of olives that gave a real seasonal feel to the place. Our mid-December arrival in The Mani put us smack dab in the middle of olive harvest and The Olive Oil Season. 

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Decorated tree surrounded by olives - Village of Nomitsis
The home we were there to purchase in Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula is an hour’s drive south of the city of Kalamata.

“Kalamata, isn’t that an olive?” we are asked.
“You bet – the olive!” we answer.
Lots of olives. . . tons of olives . . .and their oil.

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Kalamata olives
Seems everyone is familiar with the table variety called the “Kalamata olive”.
In this area of Greece the olive varietals are far more specific: a Myrtoya (hearty in areas of drought), Mavroya (early maturing), Kalamon (the classic table variety) and Mastoides (local oil variety of medium-sized with a pointy shape). That middle photo is one of our olives which I suspect is the Mastoides type.*

In everyday conversation around here olives are simply referred to as ‘oil’ or ‘salade’ varietals.

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Oil containers on sale at Katerina's Supermarket
Olive oil is serious business in the Messinia region, with some 15 million trees producing 60,000 tons of oil annually.*  Oil storage containers are for sale far and wide. The photos above are of those for sale at our local supermarket.

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Bags of olives awaiting pressing at one of the village presses
By day, the olive groves that carpet this part of The Mani were alive with harvest activities. Many of the workers come from neighboring Albania; the country providing agricultural labor much as Mexican laborers do in the United States.  Messinia has some 300 olive presses and more than 40,000 are employed in the olive oil industry.*

Saturday Night at Takis

While we love the idea of growing olives and producing olive oil we had no clue how it was done, we told our friend Giannis’ while dining at his taverna, just below our house on the hill. Turned out the olive press nearest us is owned and operated by his uncle, Takis.

So, Giannis encouraged us to stop by and visit the operation any time. . .

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Saturday night at the olive oil press
Unlike in America, where security would likely have stopped us at some distant gate, we walked into the production facility one Saturday night to find the place a beehive of activity: as one pickup load of olives was emptied another would pull up to unload.  The brain-rattling loud machinery didn’t make for conversation, but it did make for photo-taking.

It wasn’t until we were leaving that we met Takis.  I started to explain who we were and why we were there but he stopped me,

“But. . .of course, Giannis told me. You are the Americans. Come. Come with me where we can talk.”

(“But. . .of course. . .” is how so many sentences begin in Greece.)

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A feast for the soul

He led us into a side room that served as a kitchen and break room with a small enclosed office in one corner. There he told us to sit and proceeded to pour us glasses of rose wine and cut thick slices of bread which he served smothered in olive oil . 

“This is old oil,” he said as he handed us the plate.“It is three days old.” He then zipped back to the press room, leaving us alone to savor the taste and moment. That thick emerald green liquid was simply an elixir for the soul. Absolutely unmatched by any oil we’ve ever tasted in Tuscany or Spain or France . . .

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Bread smothered in extra virgin olive oil
We’d cleaned the plate and emptied our glasses by the time he returned. So the glasses were refilled and this time a large chunk of Feta cheese was put on the plate with two more slices of bread.  He took the plate into the press room, and returned with oil that was minutes old.

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Minutes old olive oil
He then poured himeself a glass of wine, raised it toward us and said, “Welcome to my country! I hope you will be very happy here!”

“But. . .of course!” we thought, “We will be happy here. . .we already are!”
Note: Facts referenced with an asterik * in this post come from a report issued by the University of California’s Cooperative Extension Service in Sonoma County.  The map below shows the areas in Greece where olives are grown.  As always the time you’ve spent with us is appreciated.  Hope you’ll come back soon and until then Happy Travels.
greece-olive-oil-production

(Crete – that large island at the bottom of the map – in the 1990’s was producing 30% of Greece’s olive oil, followed by the Peloponnese, the land mass that looks like an open hand, at 26%.*)








This week we are linking up with the fine bloggers at:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
 

53 comments:

  1. So interesting, indeed!!! Nowadays, the olives are at selling in our markets in a whole large variety (imported, of course), including the ones called kalamata and presented in your lovely post of today!!
    Thank you for the infos shared with us... it so good to find out new knowledges about it (cultivation of olives and olive oil), things that I never knew them before reading above....
    Have a sunny week!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the look at olives and their oil. Next year, I hope to be writing a first-hand account of our oil production! Please come back again and do leave a comment ~ we love hearing from you!

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  2. Aaaww and you live there! Does living in the midst of the trees make your environment extra healthy? Olive oils are so healthful and I never run out of it although we do not like whole olives except for puttanesca!

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    1. Well, part of the time we hope to be living there Carol. We just purchased a home there in December so will one day will have a foot in Greece and one in the Pacific Northwest. I am not sure about the environment but that olive oil, cheese and diet certainly seemed to have helped my cholesterol! Thanks for the visit~

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  3. That olive-oil soaked break made me salivate! I need to take a snack break.

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    1. It was every bit as good as it looks too, Carole! Licking our fingers like kids, we were . . . thanks much for stopping by!

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  4. How charming of Takis to welcome you at his table with samples and a glass of wine, perfectly civilized. You made a bold move and many will be the rewards such as this. Thanks for sharing the experience.

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    1. Sometimes you do have to stretch your mind, body, soul and common-sense and in this case it has provided - so far - some beautiful experiences. Hope to see you back here soon Betsy!

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  5. But of course, you are being treated like locals already. Your neighborhood must use a LOT of olive oil seeing the size of those cans for sale. But then, it's the best of oils. Great tour, complete with wine. And now I too am salivating for some good bread and olive oil with some garlic added.

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    1. I was thinking how much fun it will be to play with some oil and try infusing it with flavors like garlic and rosemary. . .I too could use a slab of that cheese and bread right now. Thanks for stopping by, Gaelyn.

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  6. Olive oil and bread is my favourite and this is a very interesting post.

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    1. Paula, I am so glad you enjoyed this post. Hope to see you as a regular at TravelnWrite!

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  7. How interesting - and delicious!

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    1. Hello! Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment. Hope to see you among our regulars soon!

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  8. I felt inspired to eat it now. :)

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    1. Hello again Indrani, thanks so much for stopping by! Look forward to getting to know you in the blogosphere!

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  9. Love Kalamata olives but I have to admit to my vast ignorance of the many varieties as well as to how the actual oil is processed. So far in our travels we've participated in workshops and learned how coffee and chocolate are made as well as how custom floor tiles are produced by hand. And now we've learned about olive oil! Who knew that olive oil was considered old at 3 days? A great bread drizzled with olive oil is still an amazing treat no matter what the age!

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  10. My favourite olive! This looked like a lot of fun and to taste it at the end must have been a real treat.

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    1. It was an amazing experience. I told Joel as we were leaving that I felt like I had died and just experienced heaven! Thanks much for the visit - hope to see you among our regulars soon!

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  11. A very interesting post. Olives and olive oil are slowly, and hopefully surely, will become a big thing in our part of California. Your food photos has me just wanting that for dinner tonight. I wonder if I could get away with it with the crew.
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

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    1. Welcome to TravelnWrite Su-siee! Hope you'll be back often and I am keeping my fingers crossed that you have bread, cheese and olive oil for dinner tonight!

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  12. How wonderful to be able to watch and learn this process. I bought four olive trees to celebrate my residency in Australia, and I'm so excited to see them produce in a few years. :-)

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    1. It will be fun to watch the process from the bloom and bud to the finished product! I will love reading reports of your olive grove as well! Thanks for the visit - happy weekend!

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  13. What a fun tour, looks yummy especially the end photos

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    1. The old saying, "the proof is in the pudding' did hold here - that plate of oil with a bit of bread and cheese was fabulous! Thanks for the visit and again congrats on your wedding!

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  14. I love olives! And olive oil is a must have around the kitchen. I had no idea that mid-December was olive oil season in Greece. There has been some attempt to grow olive trees here in Texas but I am not sure how much success they have had thus far.

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    1. Susan the olive harvest season is so out of the 'norm' for our experiences in Washington State where harvest begins in late July and is over by Oct. for whatever crop. In this area it begins in late November and continues through January. Thanks so much for your visit!

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  15. This is right up my alley - or should I say olive grove. Greek food, the Mediterranean diet, in general, and olives, in particular, are favourites with me. That oil looks marvellous!

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    1. Oh so glad, Ursula, that you share my love of Greek food, Mediterranean diet and olives! Thanks for taking time to comment!!

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  16. How lovely to have your own olive trees. What happened to your olives this season? Were they made into oil?

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    1. No Jan, the olives weren't harvested this season. there were some on the trees but we opted not to harvest. The previous owner had not cared for the trees in recent years so they needed some TLC and lots of pruning so we focused on that. Hopefully this coming year we will have a harvest! Thanks for asking.

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    2. I can't think of anything more satisfying than eating oil made from your own olives. Hope you get a good crop next year. :)

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  17. Hi Jackie, oh how wonderful to be in a place that breaths and lives in olives and that you got to have a very personal tour and tasting at an olive press. As a big fan of olive oil, I'm jealous and inspired. We actually buy Greek olive from Greek grocery in our neighborhood. Seeing where they were actually grown and pressed would be wonderful. I'd love to experience picking and pressing the olives myself. You have to give us a lesson one day:)

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    1. I was serious when I said the welcome mat is out and the house should be in the shape to welcome guests by this fall. . .(hint) and if that doesn't work, think about a future trip. We'd love to show you two the inside story of olives. . .

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  18. I love olive oil and Kalamata olives. And I adore Greek olive oil the most. What a great thing to experience there.

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    1. Donna, it really was like heaven on earth to be sitting there watching the oil being made and sampling it fresh off the press. An incredible experience for us and so everyday routine for all the others that it was an interesting contrast in human experiences. Thanks much for your visit!

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  19. My husband and I both like olives and dipping our bread in a good olive poil so my mouth was watering reading your post! What a wonderful experience this must have been.

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    1. Oh Pat it was insanely good! I was mopping the plate with the already sopping bread but I hated to leave even one morsel of oil, crumb or bit of cheese! It was fantastic!! Thanks for taking time to comment, 'see you soon'.

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  20. Now I know there is more than one type of kalamata olive which I like to use in salads and pasta. Next time at the grocery store I'll be checking labels to see where my olive oil comes from.
    How exciting to have your own olive trees, thanks for sharing all this information at Mosaic Monday Jackie.

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    1. I just noticed today that our store carries olives, Kalamata olives from the Peloponnese. I was so excited and ready to buy some and Joel looked at me like I was insane as he quietly observed we will have plenty of olives when we return! Thanks much for Mosaic Monday, Judith, I've met some wonderful people there!

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  21. Hi Jackie...what a great Saturday night out! I haven't had Greek olive oil, but I have had olives and olive oil in Spain. I fell in love! I brought back a couple of cans of oil, and I savored every drop. Now, that you say the Greek oil if the best, I will have to try it one of these days! Can't wait to hear about your first harvest.

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    1. Yes Nancie, you must come and try Kalamata olives and oil. . .I'll even give you a tour of the grove and the press!! (Get well soon!!)

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  22. We have a similar tradition here in Italy in December! Love fresh olive oil, makes everything taste delicious. Thanks for joining Weekend Travel Inspiration!

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    1. Margherita, we were in Spain during olive harvest once but have never been in Italy during 'the season' -- it really is such a fantastic time!! So nice to be a part of Weekend Travel Inspiration. . .I love the places the participants take me to each week!

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  23. Jackie, I never knew there were so many ways to say Kalamata olive. I love olives, and I love visiting the oil presses. I've done it in many places, but you are right, in the States it wouldn't be allowed.

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    1. One of the things we love about Greece is the fact that it is more like it 'used to be' in so many ways we find ourselves making that observation. And walking into the press without anyone finding us 'suspicious' was definitely one of those 'remember when it was like this in the U.S.' moments!

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  24. Okay, Jackie, you've had both your extra virgin and old olive oil on fresh baked bread and feta, now go write that book!! 'But of course', I didn't want this to end, as it was just too enjoyable, the company, the food, the wine. And even though I have lived scenes exactly like this hundreds of times, here on the 'big' island, hearing it, seeing it, tasting it, from those who are newly hypnotized, makes me happy.:))

    Hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. Newly hypnotized is a great way of putting it. That or being felled by the Greek 'enchantments'. I floated back to the car and said to Joel, "I think we just died and went to heaven!" Ha, ha, ha - the book. I have yet to figure out how to get readers to the blog, let alone how to get them to read a book I'd write. I'll ponder it over a plate of bread and olive oil later this spring!! Thanks much for the comment - I knew you'd understand completely. Hugs, Jackie

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  25. What a great experience, Jackie! We love olive oil and seeing this whole olive oil production process would be great. We just recently discovered an olive oil farm that produces varieties and flavored olive oil here in Southern California. It's not Greece but visiting it would do for now. It is so wonderful to see that the Greeks are so hospitable and welcoming.

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    1. It is such an interesting process - I guess just as any food creation is -- but we are like you and love olive oil so it made this one extra special. Thanks much for stopping by!

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  26. Good luck with this fall's harvest. Will you have workers come in to "pick"?

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So happy to see you took the time to comment. We read them all - and each is much appreciated. We hope you will be a regular here and comment often!

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