On a recent trip to Andalucia visiting my wife's aunt we were amazed at the numbers of olive trees stretching off into the distance. This site made me reminisce about times I enjoyed when I worked in Greece.
Back in the late 90's I worked on a gold, lead and zinc mine in Greece. We were based in Halkidiki and I lived just outside a small coastal village called Ouranopolis. I can remember waking up to a sea of olive trees outside my bedroom window each morning. Olives were harvested in the winter months of November and December long after the tourists had flown home. It was always an honour to be given a jar of olives and some olive oil from local friends who owned a number of olive trees.
The olive is an evergreen shrub and is part of the Oleaceae family and among others is related to lilac and ash trees.
The trees thrive in the Mediterranean and North African regions where they have a high drought tolerance. However, they are not too keen on temperatures below -5C.
With a really productive tree a farmer may expect to get about 40-60kg of olives per tree. It takes about 1,000 olives (4-8kg)to produce 1 litre of olive oil. An olive fruit can't be picked from the tree and eaten as it would taste very bitter. Olives are normally cured in brine, water or oil.
Can you grow olive trees in the UK? we have all seen them in pots growing in someones garden or outside a trendy restaurant but don't expect to get a harvest from these. It appears you can get fruits in the UK if you have good growing conditions and put a lot of time into growing and harvesting. Follow these links for olives in Devon and olives in a greenhouse near Chichester.
Once the olives have been harvested they have to be mashed and pressed in order to extract the oil. The traditional method is to use no heat during the extraction process, hence the name 'first cold pressed'.
Extra virgin olive oil - The highest grade you can buy. It can be called extra if it has not more than 0.8g per 100g of free oleic acid present (free acidity). In addition it must pass chemical and sensory tests to qualify.
Virgin olive oil - no more than 2g per 100g of free acidity.
Ordinary virgin olive oil - not more than 3.3g per 100g of free acidity.
virgin olive oil >3.3g per 100g of free acidity is not considered fit for consumption. This is termed Lampante virgin olive oil.
Olive oil - is a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils.
Olive-pomace oil - is the residue oil extracted by chemical solvents and must be highly refined to remove chemical impurities. This is normally enriched with virgin olive oil prior to sale.
The diagram below taken from Australian Extra Virgin sums up the different grades quite well.
I prefer to buy the extra virgin olive oil all the time because its taste is far superior to any oil that has been refined.
Furthermore, we live in a world where a whole host of chemicals are used to manufacture our food and I would rather not have someone interfering thank you very much!