CUISINES OF THE WORLD

LIQ­UID GOLD

Seabourn Club Herald - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Lisa Radinovsky

Olive oil has been the trea­sure of Greece, past and present.

One sunny Oc­to­ber morn­ing, Mayor Gior­gos Pa­paniko­laou joined school­child­ren be­neath the olive trees on pub­lic land in the Athens sub­urb of Gly­fada, where the ground was nearly cov­ered with green net­ting. Thus be­gan Gly­fada’s sec­ond an­nual vol­un­teer olive har­vest, which pro­duced olive oil for the needy while ed­u­cat­ing city chil­dren about an im­por­tant el­e­ment of Greece’s his­tory, econ­omy and cul­ture: what Homer called “liq­uid gold.”

Ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teers such as Stavros Gi­ak­oumakis demon­strated how hand­held elec­tric har­vesters knock olives off the trees onto the net­ting. Later, they washed, crushed and pressed many of the olives in a por­ta­ble unit set up in school­yards so chil­dren could see olive oil pro­duced right be­fore their eyes. Cit­i­zens, vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers and stu­dents worked un­til early De­cem­ber to har­vest the olives, pro­duc­ing one met­ric ton of vir­gin olive oil for free dis­tri­bu­tion.

Greek olive oil is not usu­ally pro­duced in school­yards, but rather in mod­ern mills with stain­less-steel ma­chin­ery to wash the olives, crush them, knead the paste, sep­a­rate the solids from the liq­uids and then sep­a­rate the oil from the wa­ter and (in some fac­to­ries) fil­ter the oil. A no­table ex­cep­tion is Bi­olea’s ar­ti­sanal or­ganic olive mill in Astrikas, Crete. There, the olives are crushed by tra­di­tional gran­ite mill­stones re­sem­bling those used for thou­sands of years and the olive paste is trans­ferred to an up­dated ver­sion of an old-fash­ioned olive press, where the olive juices run down the sides and the oil is left to sep­a­rate from the juices nat­u­rally.

OLIVE OIL IS USED LIBERALLY IN EV­ERY­THING FROM MEAT AND SEAFOOD TO VANILLA CAKES AND OR­ANGE-JUICE COOK­IES.

TREA­SURED LEGACY

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence shows that olives were first cul­ti­vated in Crete around 3500 B.C. and olive oil be­came a key ex­port in the Mi­noan and Myce­naean civ­i­liza­tions. Mythol­ogy de­picts the god­dess Athena win­ning a com­pe­ti­tion with Po­sei­don by pro­duc­ing an olive tree, while Po­sei­don of­fered a salt­wa­ter spring. Since Athena’s gift was judged more use­ful, the city of Athens was named for her; she be­came its pa­tron and the god­dess’ tree and its prod­ucts were con­sid­ered sa­cred.

An­cient pots, mo­saics, fres­coes and jewelry fea­tur­ing olives and olive trees are tes­ta­ments of their im­por­tance. An­cient Greeks used olive oil not only in their food, but also as an of­fer­ing to the gods and the dead, in per­fumes and lamps, as a medicine and to anoint and clean the bod­ies of the wealthy, es­pe­cially war­riors and ath­letes. Dur­ing the an­cient Olympic Games, cham­pi­ons were crowned with an olive wreath. At the Pana­thenaic Games, prizes in­cluded a quan­tity of fine olive oil equal to the value of four-and-a-half years of an Athe­nian crafts­man’s earn­ings.

The renowned an­cient Greek physi­cian Hip­pocrates rec­om­mended olive oil as a treat­ment for dozens of con­di­tions from skin prob­lems to ear in­fec­tions. To­day, nu­mer­ous clin­i­cal stud­ies have con­firmed a long list of olive oil’s health ben­e­fits. For ex­am­ple, oleo­can­thal, one of the phe­no­lic com­pounds in olive oil, is an anti-in­flam­ma­tory agent and an an­tiox­i­dant that can kill can­cer cells with­out harm­ing healthy cells. Olive oil low­ers to­tal choles­terol, LDL ( bad) choles­terol and triglyc­erides with­out re­duc­ing HDL (good) choles­terol. If con­sumed reg­u­larly, olive oil may im­prove cal­cium ab­sorp­tion, help de­crease blood pres­sure and help pre­vent os­teo­poro­sis, Alzheimer’s, skin can­cer and de­pres­sion. Healthy di­ets high in olive oil can im­prove con­trol of blood-sugar lev­els, re­duce the risk of type 2 di­a­betes and rheuma­toid arthri­tis and help pre­vent strokes.

HEALTH AND LUX­URY

Some of the health­i­est olive oils in the world come from Greece, where many pro­duc­ers are tak­ing pains to max­i­mize the quan­tity of healthy polyphe­nols in their oils. For ex­am­ple, Efty­chios An­droulakis, who pro­duces Pa­mako ul­tra-pre­mium mountain ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil in Cha­nia, Crete, hikes up into the moun­tains and climbs into his fam­ily’s im­mense olive trees to pluck un­ripe olives by hand, rather than let­ting the olives ripen and fall as most do with those mountain

trees. Ear­lier har­vest­ing catches olives when they con­tain the most polyphe­nols, jus­ti­fy­ing Pa­mako’s name: “medicine,” in the an­cient Greek Lin­ear-B syl­labic script.

Also named af­ter a Lin­ear-B term (the one for “olive oil”), E-LaWon prime green ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil is pro­duced near an­cient Myce­nae. Its millers skip the rou­tine step of cen­trifu­ga­tion in or­der to re­duce con­tact with wa­ter that could wash away many of their oil’s im­pres­sive health ben­e­fits. For their Lux­ury ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, E-La-Won even adds ed­i­ble gold flakes that float in the oil, fur­ther in­creas­ing its an­tiox­i­dant and anti-ag­ing qual­i­ties.

Greek com­pa­nies’ ef­forts to pro­duce high-qual­ity ex­tra-vir­gin olive oils and pack­age them in care­fully de­signed, strik­ing bot­tles for ex­port have led to nu­mer­ous awards in ma­jor in­ter­na­tional olive-oil tast­ing and con­tainer-de­sign com­pe­ti­tions, at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of gourmet bou­tiques and fine restau­rants world­wide. Mul­ti­ple award win­ners such as PJ Ka­bos Fam­ily Re­serve and Mytho­cia Olympia PGI ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil hail from near an­cient Olympia,

THE OLIVES ARE CRUSHED BY TRA­DI­TIONAL GRAN­ITE MILL­STONES RE­SEM­BLING THOSE USED FOR THOU­SANDS OF YEARS.

while other cham­pi­ons range from Chrisopigi (mean­ing “foun­tain of gold”) in Si­tia, down south in Crete, up to Kyk­lopas (or “Cy­clops”) Olive Mill in north­east­ern Greece.

THRIV­ING IN­DUS­TRY

As the world has learned more about olive oil’s health ben­e­fits and unique fla­vors, ex­ports of the liq­uid gold have in­creased. Greece is the world’s third-largest olive-oil pro­ducer, af­ter Spain and Italy, with the high­est per­cent­age of ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil — ap­prox­i­mately 80 per­cent of all Greek olive oil — in the world. One-third to two-fifths of all Greek olive oil is ex­ported. The rest — more than 16 kilo­grams (35 pounds) of olive oil per per­son each year, 16 times what Amer­i­cans eat — is con­sumed do­mes­ti­cally.

In 2012, 130 mil­lion olive trees cov­ered 20 per­cent of the cul­ti­vated land in Greece. Olive oil pro­vided the main source of in­come for 700,000 Greek fam­i­lies — as well as sup­ple­men­tary in­come and a year’s sup­ply of oil for far more. Cristina Strib­acu of award-win­ning LIÁ pre­mium ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil claims her oliveoil tast­ing lessons be­gan “the mo­ment I learned to walk,” when her mother took her to the lo­cal olive mill.

DE­LI­CIOUS TRA­DI­TION

Olive oil is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of the fa­mously healthy Mediter­ranean diet, with its fo­cus on fresh veg­eta­bles and fruits, nuts, legumes and un­pro­cessed grains, plus mod­er­ate amounts of wine, cheese and seafood and less meat, poul­try and other dairy. Greek recipes for beans and len­tils and veg­etable stews with cau­li­flower, green beans or peas, con­tain so much olive oil that they are known as “ladera,” or “oily,” dishes (a com­pli­ment). Olive oil is used liberally in Greek kitchens, poured over sal­ads and fish, of­fered as a dip for bread and in­cluded in ev­ery­thing from meat and seafood to vanilla cakes and or­ange-juice cook­ies.

For ex­am­ple, mous­saka com­bines olive oil, eggplant, pota­toes, ground beef and a béchamel cream sauce. Boureki fea­tures sliced zuc­chini and pota­toes, a mild, soft white cheese called mizithra, herbs such as spearmint and pars­ley, and olive oil. Yemista, or stuffed veg­eta­bles, in­clude olive oil in their mix of rice, tomato, onion and herbs stuffed in­side hol­lowed-out toma­toes, zuc­chini or pep­pers.

How­ever, olive oil is more than a food. For ex­am­ple, it is also used in oil lamps and the bap­tism cer­e­mony in the Greek Or­tho­dox Church.

Strib­acu ex­plains: “Olive oil has been a part of our ev­ery­day life since the Myce­naean pe­riod, 3,200 to 3,600 years ago. Thus, we are part of a sig­nif­i­cant heritage com­ing from the past straight to the present.”

Look around you in Greece and you will see the olive trees, olives and olive oil that make this clear. In many parts of the coun­try, an ex­plo­ration of the landscape takes you past rolling hills cov­ered with olive groves, their sil­very green leaves shim­mer­ing in the sun­light, un­du­lat­ing in the breeze.

Mous­saka Yemista

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