Olive oil: Greece’s precious gift to the world – Our Europe

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Olive oil: Greece’s precious gift to the world

The grey green leaves of the olive tree, standing proud of its thin, gnarled branches and trunk evoke the Mediterranean more than any other sight, particularly here in Greece.

As I write, sheltered from a rainstorm by the tin roof of Vasilis’s outdoor kitchen, there is an olive tree directly in my eye line.

And further down the road from the farm steading in Ancient Corinth, now our favourite camper stop in Greece, Vasilis has 100 young trees, which this year gave up their first rich harvest of olives.

Olive trees, and their fruit, have been at the heart of Greek life for thousands of years.

According to legend the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena and during the 6th to 7th century BC, any one caught cutting down an olive trees risked the death penalty.

It was the Roman Empire, however, that spread the olive tree throughout the Mediterranean when olive oil became the liquid gold that powered trade and commerce.

Today olive groves have spread far beyond the Mediterranean, to Australia and California.

Production is even its early stages in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Italy is the world’s biggest importer and exporter of oil, Spain produce the most each year, but per head of population, Greeks are the largest consumers.

It is estimated that 60 percent of the land in Greece is given over to olives, with more than half the production here in the Peloponnese.

The oil is used in all aspects of cooking, from frying peppers and courgettes for briam (vegetable stew) to baking melomakarona (Christmas cookies).

And it is poured straight from the bottle to flavour salads and other dishes. Imagine a slab of feta without oregano and oil. Impossible.

Two weeks ago we accompanied Vasilis to the local mill for the pressing of his 2016 harvest.

The shiny machines, powered by a large generator, pressed the life-giving oil out of the fruit with ease, and the aroma of the fresh oil was almost overpowering.

I have a precious bottle of it, a gift from Vasilis. Olive oil is best used within six months of pressing, so I have been generous with it.

It is divine. Pungent, slightly peppery. It tastes of life itself. And so it should, because study after study has shown that olive oil is one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

It is good for your heart and can reduce your chances of a stroke, it lowers your cholesterol and controls insulin levels.

It is also great for your skin and hair, as the Ancient Greeks discovered. They used it as a moisturiser and cleanser, as well as for fragrant oils.

And ancient Greeks had a tradition of offering a phial of olive oil to strangers as a symbol of their great civilization.

What better gift can you receive than a bottle of Greece’s greatest product?

OUR PITCH: We are staying at Aphrodite’s Water, a small campsite in Ancient Corinth. This is our third visit and we will stay here until Christmas. Plenty of time to prepare for our mad dash round Europe from January onwards, and to savour our favourite country.

The campsite has everything we need, from a hot shower to wifi. Better still, the hosts Vasilis and his family are hospitable in a way only Greeks can be, and we are becoming good friends with Berndt and Annie, a lovely German couple who stay here for months at a time. 

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