Olive Oil 101: Production and Purchasing Guide

24 Jun

CreteI just returned from an amazing two week trip to Greece with my family! My mom’s part Greek, so it was fun to visit the home of our ancestors.

We spent four days in Athens, but the bulk of the trip took place on the island of Crete.

Crete is the largest Greek island and a perfect combination of the beach and the country.

My favorite part about Crete was the food. Cretian food consists of seasonal vegetables, fresh cheeses, perfectly stewed meats and of course, olive oil.

My mom is an olive oil addict, which means I am too. It’s our go-to oil for cooking and eating. Due to this olive oil obsession, my family toured a traditional Cretian olive oil factory, named Biolea.

Crete produces 30 percent of all of the olive oil produced in Greece and five percent of the worlds olive oil. There’s no place better in the world to learn about olive oil.

Biolea is an organic, family-run olive oil factory that is one of the few left in Crete that is making olive oil the traditional way. Most of the olive oil we eat comes from large industrial factories, whose main goal is quantity not quality.

Olive Press

Biolea is a small factory that has returned to tradition olive oil production. They are organic, eco-friendly and produce in small batches to ensure the best quality.

I love olive oil, so I thought the tour would all be a refresher for me. Little did I know that everything I thought I knew about olive oil was wrong.

Here’s how Biolea makes some of the best olive oil in Crete and my olive oil purchasing tips.

Step 1: First, ripe olives are shaken off the olive trees by machines. The olives are collected and brought to the factory.

Step 2: Once in the factory, the olives are separated from their branches, leaves and other debris that may have been collected during harvesting. The branches and leaves can make the olive oil bitter, so this step is crucial for good oil.

Olive Oil Stack

Step 3: The olives are then transferred into a large holding container where large stone mills roll over the olives and grind them into a paste.

The pit of the olive can also cause bitterness to the oil, so it is important to not break the pit during this process.

Step 4: After the olives are ground, the paste is heated slightly to help encourage the oil to release. Industrial factories heat the paste to high heats to make it easier to harvest the oil.

The problem with the way industrial olive oil farms harvest oil is that they heat the oil past 27 degrees Celsius, which causes the oil to lose most of its health benefits. Biolea, on the other hand, cold presses their oil. This means that they do not heat the oil past 27 degrees Celsius. This ensures that their oil contains the most nutrients possible.

Biolea

Step 5: Once the paste is heated, it’s layered between circular mesh disks and stacked ten disks high.

Step 6: This column is then moved to the pressing machine where the the olive stacks are pressed from the top, while the oil is collected at the bottom. The olive paste is only pressed once.

The idea that extra virgin olive oil is better because it is only pressed once is a myth because in actuality, all olive oil is only pressed once.

Step 7: The distinction between virgin and extra virgin olive oil is based on acidity levels of the oil. Once the olives are pressed, the oil is tested to judge acidity, which then defines what batches of oil are virgin and what batches are extra virgin. Other than acidity levels, virgin and extra virgin olive oils are the same.

Biolea judges their acidity level per batch. Industrial factories tend to mix batches of differing acidity to gain the acidity level that they want. Therefore creating virgin or extra virgin oil as needed.

Next time you’re buying olive oil, make sure to buy cold pressed if you want the nutritional benefits. The choice between virgin and extra virgin depends on personal preference, but extra virgin oil is lower in acidity.

There you have it, my crash course into olive oil making and buying! Hopefully this can help shed some light on your next olive oil purchase.

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