Next stop…the olive orchards. Goran drove us across the island, using those unmarked dirt trails that require an internal GPS unit (internal as in your mind). We wove along the rutted roads until, out in the middle of nowhere, there was another car…our next guide! Here we walked out into an olive grove to check out olive trees.
The one we stopped at looked like a cluster of trees and we all wondered why they would plant groups of trees in a cluster and then another cluster some ways away…well…it turns out that actually, it was one tree, the center long ago dying and returning to the earth. The tree continues to grow and expand outward in a ring, the older branches in the center dying over time and being pruned out to give the new growth more light. The tree we were looking at was over 1000 years old!
Olive oil production is another labor intensive enterprise, with hand pruning and picking of each tree needed to ensure the best, highest quality oil. This particular company was totally organic, even using the pulp from the olives after the oil was extracted to fertilize the trees (though it takes 2 years for the pulp to break down and be usable - there’s space so they just pile it around the fields to use around the trees when it’s ready).
While the fields are still tended to by hand, the olives are no longer crushed with stones. Olynthia, the company we visited, has a completely modern production room where they not only make their own oil for selling but also produce the oil for the small family farms on the island where mom and pop pick their olives and bring them in, watching their olives all the way through the production to make sure they get ’all’ of their oil. We even learned how to taste olive oil correctly, warming it, sniffing the aroma and finally “slurping” it to mix air with it as you taste it. It really was interesting. The best part was getting to try 5 different types of oils on our lunch - wonderful because the tastes really were different. I have a new appreciation of olive oil.