Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
The good health and longevity of Cretans is well documented and there are many octogenarians living in the Cretan towns and villages.
Raw, cold pressed olive oil is one of the basic ingredients of the Cretan Diet; it is used in both cooked dishes and raw salads that are based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and pulses. Red meat is only consumed, at most, once a month; the protein base of a meal is usually grilled fish or seafood, grilled or stewed chicken, pork, and occasionally game – sparrows, squabs, quail, wild hare, wild goats, to name but a few. Eggs are served at most three times a week, customarily to younger children; a small amount of cheese is consumed almost daily and yogurt is most times part of lunch or dinner or it is served as dessert, dotted with crushed walnuts and honey. Garden snails are a regular part of the diet, either steamed or cooked with onions and herbs in olive oil. The majority of the ingredients are seasonal, and recipes depend on what is fresh and available from the garden – everyone, even apartment residents in the major cities seem to have at least herb gardens. Small quantities of wine and alcoholic beverages are also drunk almost daily; a small glass of tsikoudia (raki) over ice or diluted with a little water accompanying afternoon savory snacks, and a couple glasses of wine with dinner; perhaps a shot of home-made tsipouro (local white lightning) after dinner, called -- according to my grandfather who lived to be 103 years old -- a “plynodondion” i.e. a tooth-cleanser. Coffee is an ubiquitous beverage of choice, not only the small cups of Greek coffee traditionally served to guests or as a pick-me-up at the village coffee shop, but also, since the advent of Nescafé that has taken the Greek market by storm, instant coffee whipped with ice water and called “Café Frappe”.
All the countries bordering the Mediterranean produce excellent olive oil. The cultivation of olive trees in Crete has played a very important role in the island's economy. Olive oil has been a principal product since the times of the Minoans, when ownership of numerous olive trees represented wealth. Many ancient oil presses still exist in the Eastern Mediterranean and in both Catalonia and Portugal, and some dating to the Roman period are still in use today. In the United States, olive orchards in Arizona, California, and Texas are producing olive oil that is appearing on grocery shelves alongside the Mediterranean products.
The olive oil we currently see on market shelves is mainly imported from Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Portugal and Tunisia. Extra-virgin olive oil contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and has a superior taste, but the designation accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in the Mediterranean countries - Greece: 80%, Italy: 45%, Spain 30%. It is used on salads, added to soups and stews, and for dipping.
Retail grades have no legal meaning in the United States; terms such as "Extra Virgin" may be used without legal restrictions The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently has a four-part grading of retail olive oil based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor. These grades are voluntary; product certification is available from the USDA on a fee-for-service basis
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for oil with excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8g per 100g (0.8%)
Virgin Olive Oil, for oil with reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 2g per 100g (2%)
Olive Oil, as an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils
Refined Oil, oil made from refined olive oils, with some restrictions on the processing
But the labeling “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” has strict requirements in the countries of production. The words "extra virgin" indicate that the olives have been pressed to extract the oil with only physical means; no heat, water or chemicals have been used during the extraction process, and the oil is pure and unrefined. Virgin olive oils contain the highest levels of polyphenols, antioxidants that have been linked to better health. “Cold pressed” or “cold extracted” means that the oil was not heated over a certain temperature (80 °F) during pressing, thus retaining more nutrients and undergoing less degradation. A PDO or PGI designation refers to olive oils with quality derived from their place of origin.
Last month we tasted numerous extra virgin olive oils from different producers and importers.
Considered by our judges as one of the tastiest samples was a blend of oils from three varieties (Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki) grown in one estate in California. Low in acidity (below 0.5%) and unfiltered for optimal flavor, this exceptional olive oil was deemed ideal by the group for cooking, dipping and mostly salad dressing. Thank you Anna Zoitas, of the Artisanal Kitchen for bringing to our attention this beautiful oil. www.theartisanalkitchen.com
Another outstanding olive oil in terms of quality and taste was from Caffe Cordina; it is produced in Malta. This is a first pressing, cold process extract, awarded the rating of “superior”. Lighter than some of the other finalists, it was considered a product to be used mostly for dipping and salad dressing. Too delicate for cooking, it could be drizzled raw, over soups and cold dishes.
A 100% Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Etim, Catalonia, Spain was named third in taste, by the group judges. A DOP Siurana product, from Cooperativa Falset Marçŕ in Catalonia, it was considered perfect for dressing salads and dipping. Due to an early harvest, the fruit is still greenish. The palate has a slightly bitter almond flavor. Acidity approximately 0.3%. www.etim.cat
Garnering as many points for taste as the Etim, was the Aria Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Crete. It is an organic, first pressed, cold process extract, from still-green olives (in Greek agoureleo), with less acidity than 0.5%. Suitable for salads and cooking. www.araliaoliveoils.com
Sirob Imports submitted Kalamata, Cold Pressed, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, that was deemed by our judges to be as good for cooking as the Etim and Aria (within 1/2 point from the other two). Kalamata is a town in the Peloponnese famous for olives and silk scarves.
There were numerous other samples submitted for the tasting, but the five mentioned above, were judged as top of the line, tasty, heart healthy, olive oils.
© May 2013 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.