Olive Oil: Earthy but Complex

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Almost a month since I finished the editing.
The first three episodes of the documentary on the olive tree and the olive oil are ready. I do not know yet whether you liked them or not. However, many people ask me for details that I do not know what benefit they will be, but I will answer.


The first shooting was done in Crete in 2008. At the peak of summer, 40 degrees Celsius in Vouves. We were relaxing at the café next to the oldest olive tree in the planet. Accompanied by icy cold frappé coffees. Nobody wanted to go out there, under that scorching hot sun.
We were staring at the 3,000 year old tree with hatred. In the afternoon we left without having finished. There would not be another chance.


The next morning, with George, the crew cameraman, we woke up 4 am.
We got to Vouves. While unloading the camera from the car, the sun came up.
We did an amazing shooting. George got inside the huge olive tree trunk and recorded incredible pictures. When we returned to the hotel, it was already past 9 am.
The others were having breakfast. We were off heading to Anogeia.


Along the way, I notice an orchard of olives that struck me. All the olives were trimmed perfectly, as if they had the same shape. Whitewashed almost up to one meter from the ground. The soil freshly dug. Weird. Such care. I walk up the footpath to the estate and move into the orchard. The rest of the crew waiting back in the cars. I did not take 5-6 steps when I hear a hiss… I look up and I see an old man, of 80-90 years, beckoning me: come, come over here…
I progress toward him but feeling uncomfortable.
I have the impression that he will shoot me for trespassing the orchard.
A dashing old man. Past 90 but hale and hearty.
“What’re you looking around here?” he asks me. I explain that I am a director making a documentary about the olive tree.
“And what know you about the olive tree? Got your own roots?” he laughed.
“No” I replied.
“And how come you’re dabbling at something you do not know?” he asked.
“I’ll learn” I replied, “I have time before me, I will not do it tomorrow…”
“Come sit down,” he tells me, “to drink a shot of raki,” the traditional ouzo-like Cretan drink.

He put the first, the second, the third…
The crew waited, while the old man was telling stories of his youth.
And suddenly turns to me and says:

“One cannot learn this tree… I’m 93 and the only thing I learned is that the oil in its body, in its color, if you will, hides the orchard, the local climate, the soil, the air, the manner of bunching and crushing, even the character and habits of the owner.”
I was dumbfounded… “What did you just say?” I asked him, while gesturing to the assistant director, who came looking for me, to leave us alone.
The old man did not repeat himself. Nor did he let me shoot video. Neither him, nor the orchard. “What’s the use?” he tells me, “How did you say that? I will be dead, not going to see it…” I left disappointed.


Five years later when hearing an owner shouting the workers, dragging the net with fresh olives, I understood what he wanted to tell, that Cretan dashing old man, Mr. Lefteris.
Be well, I’m sure he lives. The thoughts of such people never die.
I put his words in the documentary as a tribute. Already said, they never die…

So whenever I want to buy olive want to see a person, the producer. You understand immediately if the olive oil is good. From the clean face.


Whether the olive oil is extra virgin and its acidity, now these factors come second.

I also remember the great Cretan old man whenever they tell me that they know the good oil, even scientists. I laughed a lot at a tele-cook lady whom we showed a very good quality olive oil
but it was almost two years old, and she told us “very fresh…” John and I looked at each other…

Nobody can doubt the old man. It took me over five years to figure it out. I’ll explain.


The oil contains Oleic acid 55 to 83%. It is a monounsaturated omega-9, a good fatty element. It also contains Linoleic acid 3.5% to 21%. Is a polyunsaturated omega-6 also a good fatty element. It contains another Linolenic acid, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty element in an amount of 0 to 1.5%. Its saturated fats are: Palmitic acid 7.5% to 20% and Stearic acid 0.5% to 5%. You can now do the combinations and find what I found as well.


There are so many grades of olive oil as many are the orchards and that multiplied by the owners, and that multiplied by the climate variations, then by the soil varieties, then the air, be it sea or hillbilly, it does matter. There is no such number, my friends!


Olive oil is a rare divine mixture with its own personality.
If you like it, take it, it will only be good for you. After you see the producer first. If this is impossible, then trust him once, and only. Not twice. Like you would a friend.
It’s so simple, old-man Lefteris. Like you said “wine, pour into the soil, the olive oil – never!”
I remember that, thank you. Let me ask you: have I learned, or do I need to learn more?


Vangelis Tremopoulos

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