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A brief guide to olives, olive oil and Cricket Hill history
07 December 2022

You may not realize this, but grapes and olives have many things in common. Just like wine making, olive oil making can be elevated to a fine art.

Grapes come in many varieties, shapes and colors. Some grapes are good for eating, others for producing wine. Olives come in many varieties, shapes and colors too. Some olives are table olives, others are oil-producing olives.

But there are more similarities between grapes and olives. Besides broad classifications, each variety comes with its own character and special features. Just like wine, olive oil can be made from a single variety (monovarietal), or crafted using oil from two or more varieties.

Last but not least, just like wine, olive oil is an art and a science. Olive oil has its own rules and a world of connoisseurs revolves around it.

You would be excused for thinking that's too much to take in. If you are not interested in learning all there is to know about olives and olive oil, but you do want to know how to choose, here's a short guide. In the next section, we talk about how this is connected to Cricket Hill and local history.

A brief guide to olives and olive oil

To most casual consumers, it would appear that there are two predominant types of olives: black and green. However, all olives begin as green olives and slowly transform to light brown and reddish-purple, before fully ripening and becoming dark black. Green olives are olives that are harvested before they are fully ripe.

Like most classifications, not everyone agrees on the exact number of olive varieties. Estimates range from a few hundreds to about 1.600. According to the International Olive Council, about 90 percent of the global olive production is directed to making oil. The remaining 10 percent is processed as table olives.

Raw olives are too bitter to eat, and can only be enjoyed after they are processed. There are many different ways to process table olives, usually variations of curing or pickling them. Table olives differ in size, color, taste, and nutrients depending on variety, year and time of harvest, location and processing.

Taste is subjective by definition, so the only objective way to evaluate table olives is to do a comparison on the basis of nutrients: Calories, Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Sugar and Protein. Not all table olive producers share details about the nutrients of their produce and not all consumers evaluate them either.

Olive-producing olives are a different story. They often look different than table olives. Some of the best varieties don't look very impressive - they are small and unglamorous. Size and looks are not everything though! Just like table olives, the final product of oil producing olives depends on a number of factors.

The time of harvest and the way olives are pressed are key in determining the type of olive that is produced. There is a special type of olive oil called Agourelaio ("Unripe oil"), which is made of early harvest green olives.

Agourelaio is more dense and bitter and less transparent than olive oil made from ripe olives, but is generally considered of high quality. In Ancient Greece it was called "Omfakion". It was considered to have medicinal properties by Hippocrates, one of the key figures in the history of medicine.

"Ripe" is a relative term. Depending on the region and climate, olives may be ripe anytime from late October to mid-January. Choosing the right time for harvest is another one of those "art and science" things. Too early means not making the most in terms of production volume. Too late means risking losing part of the crop to pests and natural conditions.

There are also different ways of pressing olives to produce olive oil. That is a topic in and of its own, but let's just say there is one thing everyone agrees on: the sooner the olives get from the harvest to the press, the better the result. Like table olives, taste does come into the olive oil equation. But unlike table olives, there is one objective way to rate olive oil: acidity.

In general, the less acid an olive oil, the highest its quality. If acidity exceeds 2 percent, then the oil is classified as lampante olive oil (a low quality oil that is not edible). If acidity is between 0.8% and 2%, then the oil is classified as Virgin Olive Oil. The highest quality olive oil must have acidity lower than 0.8% and is classified as Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Cricket Hill history

On Cricket Hill our olives are of the oil producing kind - except for one tree! Like many olive groves in the region Cricket Hill used to be covered by local wild growth species, mostly pine trees. Both olive trees and pine trees flourish in virtually all parts of Greece. Pine tree forests are still abundant in the area and Cricket Hill borders one too.

Some 50 years ago the family who used to own this land converted it to an olive grove. They put all their generational knowledge of agriculture and local conditions in the process and gave the land the time and care it needed. Olive trees need at least 5 to 6 years to grow productive. In some places there still is a tradition of planting an olive tree when a child is born so they both grow in parallel.

Like many other families in rural Greece, the children of the previous land owners migrated to the city. Family elders eventually passed away and the people who inherited the land were city dwellers who did not have the time or the motivation to look after it. This is where we came in the picture and took over from Dionysis, the son of the family who used to own the land.

Unfortunately, Dionysis also passed away prematurely shortly thereafter. We only managed to reconstruct some parts of the land's history based on conversations with him before that happened. We are still in the process of learning more bits of local history and connecting the dots, which in many ways adds to the joy of catering to the land.

What we are certain of is that the people who created this olive grove made some very good choices. The olive variety they chose, Koroneiki, is a perfect match for local conditions. There are between 50 to 100 olive varieties in Greece and Koroneiki ranks very high among them. Koroneiki is the celebrity of oil-producing olives for a number of reasons.

Koroneiki is a traditional Greek olive variety originating from the neighboring area of Koroni. Its fruits are small (12-15 mm), but it's a variety that is sturdy and perfectly adapted to local conditions. Equally important, it produces top quality olive oil with a fruity taste, light green color and low acidity, especially when applying organic techniques like we do.

Our previous harvest was done in 2 rounds, an early one which produced Agourelaio of ~0,3% acidity and a late one which produced Premium Organic Olive Oil of ~0,6% acidity. Both were amazing. They were gone in a flash and have been thoroughly appreciated.

This year we'll have a single round harvest shortly before Christmas. That means we won't produce Agourelaio this time, but on the bright side we expect to have more output. We are looking forward to concluding what has been a very good year in the best possible way. If you want to join the ranks of people already in the waiting list, let us know!