2009 extra-virgin olive oil harvest
Here is the official story of our 2009 extra-virgin olive oil harvest in Crete. There are many photos, so if you have a slow connection please be patient. You may be amused by the incredible tale of the earthquake and the exploding chocolate goat. So now make a cup of tea while the files download ... and enjoy!
This is what we see every morning when we wake up.
Our Saint Basil Olive Grove is dominated by spectacular south views of the White Mountains - home of the famous Samaria Gorge.
Crete is very green and lush in the wintertime - yet that is a blue November sky! Daytime temperature is typically 19 - 25 degrees centigrade, although it does get cooler at night so there is no need for airconditioning at this time of year.
This is a view of the North Grove (4.5 acres) with two of our five villas Selene and Fos in the middleground. Behind us is the South Grove of 1 acre.
(The tree on the left is not an olive!)John (right) has a leisurely chat with neighbour Giorgos (left) in our favourite kafenion in the nearby village of Gavalochori. Giorgos advises we need to invest in some new equipment this year to make our harvest more productive.
For some daft reason, John has decided to give up alcohol, which is why he is holding a bottle of fizzy water. Poor boy...we shall see how long this fad lasts...Tools of the trade. We stock up on extra equipment. See the three beating sticks to the right of the photo? Each has 4 or 5 prongs, made of plastic so as to be gentle on the olives. The trick is to 'gently' swish the branches from side to side or 'brush' down the length of each branch to encourage the olives to fall into nets laid on the ground.
(Originally, olive farmers used a simple wooden stick to hit the branches and dislodge the olives - not very effective!)
The two wide 'scrapers' on the left are for separating twigs from the olives after they have fallen into the nets.Ready for action. Marcus (left) and John (right) start the day early. Note the wellies - despite 22 degrees and bright sunshine the ground is wet with dew. Soft green nets are spread around each tree to catch the falling olives. These nets are the best because they are not liable to be caught by the wind - they have small holes in!
Go whack 'em, gently, boys.John models the lastest 'must-have' headgear this autumn.
He discovered the hard way after getting thwacked in the eye by a rogue olive branch. More than 'ouch' and a lot of squinting, this required a visit to the local health centre followed by a course of antibiotics. (Glad to report he is now OK - no lasting damage.)
Learn from his foolish mistake and ALWAYS wear protective eyegear.Stylish headgear also enables optional teeshirt to be worn as sun protection.
We told you it was hot!Make like a tree!
Andy (left) holds a broken branch upright so John can whallop it with the pointy stick.Mark turns grovelling into an art form. No, he is not counting the olives one by one (or is he?).
We THINK he is removing leaves and twigs. But there again, he could just be having a rest.John, Andy and Mark practice the time-honoured tradition of 'The Olive Net Shuffle'.
The full net is lifted and carried to where the main batch of olives are stored. Participants usually step on the net and fall over each other's feet in the struggle to manoeuvre the net into position. It is accompanied by much cursing and squeals of 'YOU ARE STANDING ON MY WELLIE.'.
This is never a graceful spectacle.The trio finally manage to deliver their haul to the olive holding area.
Time for another break, chaps...?...no chance! There is more where that lot came from. (A lot more.)
This particular load on the ground we later discovered weighed around 320 kg. About 8 sacks.Mark and Andy with yet another catch. Very often, while hauling those nets, you will feel as though you are a fisherman ... er... fisherwoman ... fisherperson.
Oh heck, do we have to be so politically correct?
No, this is Greece, remember.
Hooray.ok, NOW you can all sit down.
Lunchtime in the olive grove consists of fresh locally sourced tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, dolmades, cucumber, olives and crusty bread drizzled in ...olive oil (of course).
That yellow jar is full of home made piccalilly. (Thank you, June).
While Mark and Andy cheerfully quaff the red wine, you will notice John eating an apple. Or is he smoking a pipe in a laconic 1950s sort of pose? Either way he still refuses to drink alcohol."I'm An Olive Picker ... Get Me Out Of Here."
Andy emerges from the jungle.A rare photo of Marcus (right).
As Official Olive Harvest Photographer he usually remains invisible. But at this point in the trip he has just discovered the delayed exposure setting and is determined to get his money's worth.Andy demonstrates how to fill a sack of olives. Not so easy single handed. But with the clever addition of a 'bottomless bucket' that sack is a cinch to load up. A typical mix of olives in various degree of ripeness. Lovely as they look, don't be tempted to chew on a raw one. Even at harvest time they can be very bitter.
The variety is the famous 'Koronaika' olive, indiginous to the Apokoronas area of West Crete. Apokoronas is pronounced: APO-KOR-ONAS with emphasis on the middle 'O'
This is counter to the natural English pronounciation where we would emphasise the third O.
Maybe that's why the locals can never understand us when we ask for directions home...Marcus overseeing the workers.
Although we are only two and a half kilometers from the sea at Almyrida, we are also overlooked by the spectacular 'Lefki Ori'.
By Christmas these White Mountains will be capped with snow.
And so will Marcus if he does not move by then.All finished in this neck of the woods. (North Grove, East Side)
Those 5 sacks represent the haul from just 4 of our 200 trees .All packed up and ready to go.
All we need now is someone with a big truck. A Very Big Truck.
...now who do we know...?Andreas arrives. On time as well!
And he has remembered to bring his Very Large Truck.
How useful.The Andreas-mobile doesn't look quite so large from this angle.
On the way to the olive oil factory we have serious doubts as to whether Andreas will make it.
The truck is carrying nearly one and a half tonnes of raw olives (36 sacks). We worry lots more when we see the tyres bulging, and copious plumes of black smoke at every gear change.
Those hairpin bends result in much wobbling and shaking. That's us, not just the truck!.
We wonder when Andreas last serviced his brakes...Phew! we make it to the main town.
But there are yet more obstacles to negotiate.
(Why are they pink???)We have reached our destination: The Olive Oil Factory
There are many different factories to choose from, each with their own methods and standards of equipment. We chose this one because they achieve traditional results with modern machinery - no chemicals, no significant heat, only pressure and centriguge to extract the oil. We have had very good results in previous years.
Not all factories are the same!This is the first time Andreas has been here. Being fluent in Greek he had a long chat with the workers and was very impressed. His official verdict? 'These boys give a good vibe'.
That's cool enough for us.Although the factory is high quality, the oil it produces can only be as good as the olives it receives. This is the queue, waiting to be pressed, and some pallets are full of sweaty olives that look more than a few days old.
This is why we personally deliver our crop and 'ride shotgun' while our bags are processed before our eyes. We arrive with our olives early and are allowed to jump the queue so our bags are not waiting in the heat...This is the 'input 'end. All shiny clean and stainless.
It reminds us of some fiendish device used in a James Bond movie.
Now, where can we find Dr Evil?
.This is the 'output' end. It is where the lovely green oil is poured into cans for us to take away. Ready to go!
Our sacks steady John as he shivvers with excitement...Bags are opened and the contents poured into the hopper. The conveyor takes the olives to an air blower where twigs and leaves are separated. They are literally blown away out of the factory via two long horizontal pipes This natural waste is then mulched into agricultural compost. John watches the olives washed in fresh water. No water is recirculated between batches to ensure absolute cleanliness.
(His eye still hurts from being hit by that rogue branch.)The olive mash.
Despite the rather unpleasant looks, it smells wonderfully green and fresh.The bizarre sight of Marcus sitting on a sofa in the middle of an olive oil factory, watching strange machines suck and blow and squeeze and whirl.
Howver, a man can only take so much and this activity becomes very boring. A more interesting distraction is required...... the Factory Shop! The perfect place to spend an idle half hour...
...let's look inside..... an Aladdin's Cave of wondrous things. This place is part shop, part museum of ancient olive production technology.. Tradtional gifts, perfect for presents to take home. Here's an old raki still. Probably highly illegal even when it was in use. At last! Our oil is ready!
As advertised, it is delightfully green and fragrant.
Mr Greek Man kindly offers a cup.The factory owners thoughtfully lay on fresh crusty bread, tomatoes, lemon and sea salt. Plus a bottle of village wine of course.
(You know the wine is authentic if it is presented in an old plastic water bottle!)Mr Greek Man ceremoniously removes the insides of the tomato and the lemon, before stirring into the fresh oil (5 minutes old!) .
Yes, at this stage the oil does look like pondwater but that is because it needs several months to settle.
However, the resulting taste is magnificent.
It is everything we expected and more.
Hearty congratulations all round!So good that John goes in for seconds.
He is still not tempted by the village wine.
However, since it IS compulsory to drink this wine, Marcus more than makes up for John's self-inflicted abstinance.And so we return with many hundreds of litres of the freshest unfiltered, unblended extra-virgin olive oil from cold first press.
Now all we have to do is ship it to the UK.
Exactly how many litres? To give an idea of scale, those gray pumps are more than 1 metre long!
And there is more where this came from...