The olive tree has a revered place in Ancient Greek mythology - the goddess Athena was believed to have created the first tree during her battle with Poseidon, god of the sea, for the city of Attica. Up on the Acropolis, it was decided that the one who gave the city the finest gift should become its patron. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident to create a spring, and Athena planted an olive tree. While the water in Poseidon’s spring was salty, and therefore of little value, Athena’s olive tree provided the people with food, oil and wood.
The city was renamed Athens. Homer called olive oil “liquid gold.” In ancient Greece, athletes ritually rubbed it all over their body. Its mystical glow illuminated history. Drops of it seeped into the bones of dead saints and martyrs through holes in their tombs. The olive tree, symbol of abundance, glory and peace, gave its leafy branches to crown the victorious in friendly games and bloody wars, and the oil of its fruit has anointed the noblest of heads throughout history. Olive crowns and olive branches, emblems of benediction and purification, were ritually offered to deities and powerful figures: some were even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
CORFU AND ITS OLIVES
Just a quick glance at the fields and hillsides all over Corfu you can’t escape the sight of an olive tree. In fact there are thought to be over 3 million planted over the island - the plantation of them can be traced back to when the island was under the rule of the Venetians as they encouraged the Corfiot farmers to grow them to meet the demand for olive oil back in Venice. Olives on Corfu are harvested from November until April; six to eight months after their spring blossoms appear. Olive trees require very warm average temperatures and grow successfully in Corfu, with its mild winters and long, hot summers. In many regions, olives are beaten from the tree with poles and caught in large nets. Other olive farmers now use machine harvesting, including trunk and branch shakers.
However, in Corfu growers collect olives that fall naturally to the ground, or are helped on their way by wind and rain. Once collected, the olives are taken to an olive press as if they are not pressed immediately they begin to oxidise and ferment. Thousands of years ago, crushing was done by hand in spherical stone basins. Today, in a similar method, olives are crushed by mechanical stainless steel grindstones.
The oil is separated from the paste by means of ‘centrifugation’, which simply means spinning the paste round at high speed. Olive oils are graded and judged according to their level of acidity and this method produces ‘extra virgin’ olive oil which is the first cold pressed olive oil. No heat or chemicals have been applied.
This oil contains no more than 1% acid, and is considered the finest and fruitiest of all. It is this ‘cold press’ method that enables olive oil to maintain its flavour, colour and nutritional value. In fact, olive oil is the only oil that can be consumed as it is removed from the fruit. A gentle filtration process is used to remove sediment and produce extra Virgin olive oil with an acidity level of less than 1%.
Any oil with acidity above this level receives an additional refining step to remove almost all traces of colour, aroma, taste and acidity, resulting in extra light tasting olive oil. In order to produce the grade of oil simply known as pure olive oil, extra virgin is added back to extra light to achieve the desired level of flavour and aroma. Like a fine wine each variety of olive oil is evaluated by tasting an measuring acidity before bottling. Also like wine, no two olive oils are alike. Each is a unique product of soil, climate, olive varieties and age, and processing methods.
Oils can be fruity or flowery, nutty or spicy, delicate or mild, and can range from clear to pale green or golden to deep olive green in colour. Back to articles