As the days become shorter and cooler and November winds bring the first rains of winter, it is time for the Greeks to harvest the olives. The rain, which gives the olives that last burst of growth, has been eagerly awaited. The olives must be wet before picking. If dry, the oil yield will be much lower. Nets are spread beneath the magnificent old olive trees, which are then beaten (nearly half to death…) with a stick, to dislodge the olives, which are then placed in sacks, loaded onto trucks, and taken to the local olive press.
From the largest town to the smallest village, from commercial to small family run businesses, the olive press has played a major part in Greek life. 3,000 years ago, Thales, one of the seven wise sages of Ancient Greece, predicted the demand for olive oil and foresaw the need for olive presses at a specific time of the year. He rented up all the olive presses in his hometown of Miletus, and the next year, when there was indeed a bumper crop of olives, he made a fortune by controlling the olive press prices. Thales had created the first monopoly in history.
The Greeks have been producing olive oil for more than 4,000 years, initially in households, where families used stone vats to simply crush and heat the olives. Olives were placed on a large stone slab, where pressure was applied with a round stone. This procedure produced a paste which was then taken to the olive press.
The first type of press consisted of two millstones, rotated with the help of a thick, wooden beam. This was the “Trapetum” (from the Greek verb “trepo” – to turn). In Roman times, the “Mola oleria” came into use, this was made up from two cylinder shaped stones, driven by an upright axe. Both these types of mills were used in Byzantine times.
After the 18th century, olive presses in Europe were driven by machines, but up until the 1970s, animal-driven presses were still in use in Greece. Today olives are nor pressed. They are centrifuged and the oil expressed is known as “First Pressing, Extra Virgin Olive Oil”. The centrifuge system is preferred to “Grinding” as the temperature of the olives is not raised, resulting in better quality “Cold Pressed” oil.
Over 60% of cultivated land in Greece is given over to a 132 million olive trees, putting the country third place in world olive production. The fruit of these sacred trees, the olive, produce 350,000 tons of olive oil annually, making Greece the largest producer of extra virgin olive oil.
In the little village of Perahora, near Loutraki, the Georgiou family run their own olive oil press, producing excellent extra virgin olive oil made from olives grown on their lovingly cultivated trees. The family business, established in 1967, was recently renovated with up to date machinery. Here, the Georgiou family strives to make the best, tastiest, top quality olive oil, “Liquid Gold” as Homer, the great Greek poet, called it.
Apart from the modern machinery and airy buildings, the atmosphere, the smell, the same raw materials and the same pure liquid gold, olive oil is produced here by the Georgiou family as it was thousands of years ago, in Ancient Greece. This delectable olive oil is packaged and made available to customers in their shop Kalielaion, set in the heart of Loutraki, along with fabulous olive oil by-products, such as soap, and a great variety of olives.