95% of the 750 million olive trees cultivated worldwide are to be found in the Mediterranean region, mainly in Greece, Italy, and Spain. Almost anywhere in Greece, you will behold acres and acres of olive trees their silver grey leaves shimmering in the golden sunlight. More than 60% of cultivated land in Greece is given over to 132 million olive trees, placing the country third in the world (after Spain and Italy) in olive production. It produces about 350,000 tons of olive oil a year, some 12% of the world’s annual output. 82% of this being top quality extra virgin olive oil. 50% of Greece’s excellent olive oil is exported mainly to Italy, which receives over three quarters of the total olive oil exported from Greece
There is hardly a family in Greece who does not own at least a few olive trees from which they gather the olives each autumn. All family members pitching in, spreading nets beneath the trees to catch the precious fruit, throwing them into sacks to be later taken to the local olive press. The oil produced from the olives will keep the family well-stocked with olive oil for the following year. Any surplus will be given to friends or sold to locals.
Greece, the top producer of black olives, has more varieties of olives than any other country. 65% of olives used for the production of olive oil are grown in the Peloponnese. The most prized olive for olive oil production is the Koroneiki from Korone in Messinia, Peloponnese. This small olive grows well on mountain sides and has a high ratio of skin to flesh, making it ideal for the aromatic agourelaio – olive oil made from slightly unripe olives, with a distinct slightly bitter taste and dark green color.
The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) with its headquarters in Madrid, Spain, and consisting of 23 member states (which produce 82% of the world’s olive oil) promotes and keeps track of olive oil production determining the quality, legitimacy, and grade, ensuring that all olive oil is up to standard, and that the oil in the bottle actually is what is states on the label. When buying extra virgin olive oil you know that is exactly what you are getting, not an inferior blended oil.
To produce quality olive oil, olives should be thought of as fruit handled lovingly and gently so as not to bruise or damage them. Great care is taken when packing olives for transportation. Shallow containers need to be used to avoid putting pressure on this fragile fruit. Heat is the arch enemy of the olive destroying its wealth of antioxidants. For this reason, they need to be protected from high temperatures. Therefore today olives are centrifuged (not pressed). The oil expressed is known as “first pressing, extra virgin olive oil.” With lower temperature, the result is better quality “cold pressed oil”.
After harvesting different types of olives are kept separate from each other as are inferior olives from first class olives to make sure only the best quality olives go to make the delicious extra virgin olive oil.
As olives deteriorate very quickly causing oxidation and fermentation resulting in inferior oil, they should be processed as soon as possible after harvesting at moderate temperatures. The resulting wonderful golden green olive oil should then be stored in clean stainless containers at low temperatures to keep its fragrant and aromatic flavors, as well as preserving all its healthy properties.