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Haven't got any plans for this summer? These are the Island Paradises of Extra Virgin

Haven't got any plans for this summer? These are the Island Paradises of Extra Virgin

2018/26/07 - Waiheke, Maui, Kythira, Corsica, Pantelleria, Brijuni... Evocative places that give flight to our imagination and that also reveal themselves to us as genuine -and remote- island paradises of extra virgin olive oil. You can still plan your summer holidays in any of these amazing places of the road trip we published in the last issue of Olivatessen by Mercacei #4.

Premium EVOO from the Antipodeans

With an extension of 92 km² (35.5 sq. mi.), inhabited by a permanent population of a little over 7,000 people, Waiheke is the second largest island in the gulf of Hauraki -only second in size to the Great Barrier Island- and the most accessible. This paradisiacal spot is profiled by green hills and located at a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, the financial capital of New Zealand. 40 kms. (24.8 miles) of beaches, with crystal clear and lukewarm seas, hide a real treasure inland: a couple of hectares of dryland olive groves that are lovingly cared for by its owners, John and Margaret Edwards, an adorable couple whose love story with extra virgin olive oil began during their frequent visits to Spain and other Mediterranean countries in the 1960s.

The plantation, Matiatia Grove -under whose name their EVOOs are marketed- is located near the Bay of Matiatia and is one of the oldest on the island. Originally a land of green pastures -Matiatia is a Maori word that means whispering grass,- in 1992 the Edwards undertook a small experiment with different varieties. With time, those that produced low yields were replaced or grafted to those that had prospered in the local maritime ecosystem, in order to produce a top-quality EVOO. Five years later, Matiatia Grove has about 1,200 olive trees, aged from 2 to 21 years old, in which Italian and Greek varieties predominate clearly -Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo, Pendolino, Nocellara and Koroneiki- and from which a small, but high-quality, volume of production is obtained. The fact is that their company, Waiheke Olive Oil, aspires to produce the best Premium EVOO from the Antipodeans.

The first EVOO Made in Hawaii

Known as the “Valley Isle” as it is formed by two volcanoes (Mauna Kahalawai and Haleakala) which unite in a fertile ism, Maui is the second largest island in Hawaii -1,880 km² (725.8 sq. mi.)- and the third most populated in the archipelago. Its name alludes to the semi-god Maui, known in various places in Polynesia, who created the islands by fishing them from the depths of the sea.

In 2010, Jamie Woodburn and his son Josh founded the Maui Olive Company, where they combine their knowhow, experience and efforts to produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil at their own mill in Kula. A risky bet and not an easy task, as nobody had done it before in Hawaii. The fact is that in Maui olives -whose origins date back to the times of the missions- will never replace sugar or pineapples as a crop. Their olive groves, with a view of the ocean –nearly 4,000 trees aged from 3 to 7 years old, from the Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery, in California- grow caressed by gentle winds on the fertile volcanic soil of the Haleakala slopes and foothills, at an altitude going from 2,000 to 4,000 m. (6,500-12,000 ft.) above sea level. The dozen different varieties that have been planted are mainly Greek, Spanish and Italian, those that adapt best to these heights: Koroneiki, Arbequina, Arbosana, Frantoio, Pendolino, Lucino, Picual, Manzanillo… as well as the Cerasuola -with which they have been experimenting at the younger olive groves- or the French Picholine. The Woodburns have also acted as consultants, designers and managers in the plantation of 10,000 olive trees on Maui and Oahu.

The Maui Olive Company is proud to be the first extra virgin olive oil producer at a commercial level in the archipelago. But not only that. They also enjoy their work that respects the environment, generates riches and contributes towards the rise of sustainable agriculture in the islands. An ever more promising future can be guessed at, that will deter the tides of development and preserve a legacy for future generations.

Olive Groves in Canada? Impossible!

The Olive Farm is located in Fulford Valley, on Salt Spring Island, in the southern Gulf Islands on the West Coast of Canada. Since December 2016, the first 100% Canadian extra virgin olive oil is obtained from its nearly 3,000 olive trees. A marvelous eccentricity born out of the passion, enthusiasm and patience shown by the Braun couple -George and Sheri,- who are true lovers of the olive and its magical elixir. But, as olive trees take such a long time to grow, the Brauns haven’t dilly-dallied and have taken to planting, cultivating and harvesting many other fruits: cranberries, cherries, grapes, wheat, quinoa, garlic, artichokes... and kale, lots of kale.

After finding the right type of land in which to establish their olive grove, the Brauns bought a 72-acre farm in Fulford Valley, on Salt Spring Island, at the foot of the verdant Mount Maxwell. The search for olive trees became harder than they had expected. “All the garden centers insisted that olive trees wouldn’t grow in Canada, that I was going to waste my time and money” remembers George. “But I didn’t heed them and went on looking, until I found the Fairfield Olivi Nursery (California), who in the summer of 2011 sent me 350 trees of the Italian varieties Frantoio, Leccino and Maurino, which we considered would have the best chances of survival and grow, as they are resistant to the cold. It then became clear that we would need to build a greenhouse to protect these little rooted trees, where we cultivated them for a year before moving them out to the fields. Thus, during the summer of 2012 we planted approximately 1,000 trees in our first olive grove."

After four years of observation and much care, at the beginning of December 2016 the first, and much hoped for, harvest arrived. The fruit was picked by hand by family, friends and workers, and were milled a few hours later. The production process of the olive juice -putting into practice everything that had been learnt at the Master Miller Course taken at UC Davis the previous autumn- was thrilling. The challenge had begun.

Despite a low yield, the small production at The Olive Farm is yet the largest in Canada. George Braun is convinced that both the production and the yield of their olives will grow along with the olive trees on their property, and that thanks to the special micro-climate in the valley, the fruits will be able survive the 46th Parallel North, making the -impossible?- dream of cultivating an olive grove in Canada come true.

EVOO with a Corsican Accent

But now let us travel to Old Europe. Hidden between gentle green hills, swept by the sea breeze and the colder breath from the high mountains, where vines, oaks and poplar trees grow along the River Bravono, Moulin Oltremonti’s domaine, in Linguizzetta (Corsica, France) spreads over of 35 hectares (86 ac.), divided into two lots on the east coast of the island, between the sea and the mountain. Their first olive grove rests on a farm of only five hectares (12 ac.), close to the mill -built in 2013, and the only one in Corsica to be certified by Ecocert for organic EVOOs, under the Huile de Corse (Oliu di Corsica) PDO; and half a mile away, is the second and more important plantation, stemming from cuttings taken from centuries-old numbered olive trees.

The farm -at present in the process of transforming to organic framing- was born in the spring of 2008, with nearly a thousand olive trees, after a long process of reproduction of the old Corsican varieties of age-old olive trees, on the slopes of the village Monte in Casinca to the north, and Santa Lucia di Tallano to the south: Ghjermana di Casinca, Ghjermana di Tallano and Sabina varietals. The first harvest was in 2011, and its juices have been awarded prizes at international competitions.

Their range of EVOOs -Cuvée Émilie, Dolce, Frescu, Intensu, Athéa and Galoppa- are produced mainly from the Ghjermana di Casinca variety, harvested at the beginning of Autumn so as to confer them with their characteristic pungent and fruity flavor. The enterprise also owns a line of flavored oils and gourmet products from L’Épicerie Oltremonti, as well as 100% natural soaps made using extra virgin olive oil. At Moulin Oltremonti all the phases of the production process are taken care of, to ensure the quality of their product from tree to bottle, and they also work with other olive growers in the region. Thus, Oltremonti lives in total harmony with their olive trees, which they tend with care and due respect.

Aphrodite’s Birthplace

Homer tells us that Aphrodite, the Goddess of love in Greek mythology, was born on the island of Kythira, on the steep slopes of the coastland, and rose up from the crest of the waves after Uranus had been mutilated, and his testicles had fallen into the sea. Located southeast of Peloponnese, the 284 km2 (110 sq. mi.) of this beautiful island in the Ionic archipelago, with little more than 3,000 inhabitants, surrounded by three seas -the Ionic, the Aegean and the Cretan- make up a natural paradise where numerous remains from old civilizations are still preserved today in good condition. And that is despite the various pirate raids it suffered throughout history, which threatened to finish with such a valuable legacy on more than one occasion. This island has seen Phoenicians, Spartans, Athenians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans...

On this island of myths and history, abandoned by its inhabitants but never forgotten, wine and honey are produced, but also olive oil. In 1992 Harry Tzortzopoulos returned to the island of his ancestors, after completing his agricultural studies, to take charge of his family’s olive groves that are mainly concentrated in the Stenokampos area, on the outskirts of Karava, in the northern region of Kythira. Since its birth in 2001, his company Astarti-Tzortzopoulos Estate has been dedicated to the production, packaging and commercialization of top quality traditional and organic products, with the goal of promoting organic farming, awareness of the environment on the island, active participation in the protection of the land, as well as fair trade.

This unique terroir, the singular microclimate of the area and the agricultural practices that include dryland farming and early harvests are the factors that contribute to the superior quality of its limited-production organic EVOO -Astarti Exclusive, Astarti Exclusive Premium and Astarti Blend,- whose fame has crossed borders and presently enjoys well deserved international acknowledgement, exporting 65% of its production. All the land and the olive trees belonging to the company -of the Koroneiki variety, that grow at an altitude between 10 and 140 meters (from 30-460 feet) above sea level- are certified organic, as are their facilities. Since May 2013, and thanks to the collaboration with the Potamos agricultural cooperative, Atarti Co. has its own packaging plant in St. Elias-Potamos, to the north of the island, which also fills the needs of other producers in the region.

Mallorca, EVOO territory

The cultivation of olive trees and the production and consumption of olive oil are of great tradition on the island of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain). Traditionally, the oli from Mallorca has been acknowledged and appreciated, as much by the island’s inhabitants as by the citizens of the areas with which they have maintained historical commercial relations, especially the south of France. Closely connected to the birth, in 2002, of the Regulatory Council Oli de Mallorca Protected Designation of Origin, the production of extra virgin olive oil has gone through a re-emergence, and nowadays olive groves are beginning to expand over the island thanks to small olive tree farmers -around 830- whose goal is the recognition of its differentiating factors, such as its quality and singular character.

In the middle of the Serra de Tramuntana, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2002 and today a true natural museum treasuring thousands of centennial olive trees of the native variety, Mallorquina, there are two restaurants devoted to extra virgin. Chef Guillermo Méndez, one of the masterminds of the new cuisine in Mallorca, is the head of El Olivo, at the Hotel Belmond La Residencia in Deià, one of the most enchanting and prestigious hotels on the island. Situated in an old hacienda, surrounded by olive trees from which the olive oil under the Oli de Mallorca PDO is produced -part of the restaurant occupies what was originally the farm’s oil mill-. The second one is the Valldemossa Restaurant-Hotel, with magnificent views of the olive groves that surround this picturesque place on the island of Mallorca, and whose cook has won, for two consecutive years, the Oleotapa competition for the best tapas made with extra virgin olive oil. And one should not forget the Michelin-Star restaurant Andreu Genestra, also lodged in a charming place, the Hotel Predi Son Jaumell, which has its own vegetable garden and olive grove. Its chef, an EVOO enthusiast, has integrated extra virgin into his tasting menu, pouring it onto the service plate, so that the aroma of the olive juice reaches the guest while it is being poured.

Horizontal olive groves in Pantellería, the black pearl of the Mediterranean…

As part of the province of Trapani, Pantellería, daughter of the wind, is a beautiful Mediterranean island, a little more than 80 km² (30 sq.mi.) big, located halfway between Sicily (100 km. - 62 mi.) and Tunisia (70 km. - 43 mi.). Made up of rocks of volcanic origin -the island is only the small part that emerges from a volcanic structure of more than 2,000 m. (6,562 ft.) in height-its history has always been bound to its geographical location. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Normans... According to legend, one of its lakes, the Specchio di Venere (Venus’ Mirror), which is, in fact, the crater of a volcano, was the goddess’ dressing-table mirror before her erotic-festive encounters with Bacchus, and its thermal, almost fluorescent waters flow constantly from the heart of the earth at a temperature of almost 50ºC (120ºF) and containing sulfurous and calciferous sediments.

This paradise, a movie backdrop and a destination for celebrities, VIPs and members of high society since the 60’s, who have chosen Pantellería as their private Garden of Eden -Armani, Truman Capote, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabella Rosellini or Madonna, amongst others,- is covered with palm trees, olive groves, vineyards of the famous Passito di Pantellería variety, and those typical buildings called damusi -Armani built himself one- whose origins date back to the 10th century. The olive groves -that were introduced by the Phoenicians- make up part of the vegetative heritage, along with plantations of vineyards and capers. The predominant varietals are the Biancolilla and the Nocellara di Belice, both with double capability; the first mainly used for the production of oil and the latter for table olives. Due to the strong winds that lash the island for the better part of the year, the trees are characterized by their horizontal structure, reaching an average height of only 1,5 m. (5 ft.), and are pruned in such a way that their branches grow parallel to the ground. Thus a fully-grown tree can spread over a surface area of 20-30 m² (200-300 sq. ft.) or even more, as some of the branches that are in contact with the earth grow roots to form a new plant. Quite a caprice of Nature, modeled by man.

... And white olives from Malta

Set in the middle of the Mediterranean at some 90 km. (55 mi.) from Sicily, Malta is a densely populated country of small dimensions, and has a strategic geographical position. Recent archeological discoveries prove that the Romans were already producing oil 2,000 years ago, and some of the oldest references date back even more than 5,000 years, as shown by some of the carbonized remains of cultivated olive trees found during the excavations at the Skorba Temples complex. Between 1530 and 1798, the Maltese Crusader Knights of the Order of Saint John decorated their gardens with white Bajda olive trees, and their fruit became an ingredient in one of the typical dishes in this country: rabbit stew. White Maltese olives frequently appear in reports on the agronomy of the island, whose temperate climate and rich alkaline soil make it ideal for the cultivation of the olive tree, from which a fresh EVOO is produced, of undisputed -and scarcely recognized internationally- quality.

Olives and olive oil are widely used in Malta, as an ingredient present in the majority of traditional Maltese dishes, as well as for medicinal uses. However, most of the olive oil has traditionally been imported from Italy and other Mediterranean countries. Sam Cremona, previously a gemologist, known as the Godfather of olive oil, is probably the most authorized voice to talk about the olive juice from Malta. On his farm in Wardija there are Bajda olive trees of beautiful pearly-white fruits, one of the two native varieties on the island -the other is Bidni,- that are particularly resistant to plagues and the fearsome olive fly, and from which genuine Maltese olive oil is extracted since 1997, much sweeter than many other common extra virgins. From amongst approximately 12,000 olive trees living on the island, only 70 are of the white olive variety. Determined to recharge the Maltese olive oil industry by planting native varieties, thanks to his initiative the population of olive trees has increased on the island and small farms with an artisanal production are beginning to prosper. The objective is: to position Maltese extra virgin on the global map of olive oil.

The Old Olive Tree in Brijuni

Thanks to the virtues of its climate, geographical position and type of soil, the region of Istria, in Croatia, is ideal for olive farming and the extraction of top-quality EVOOs, amongst the best in the world. Olive oil from Istria was already much appreciated during the Roman empire: according to Pliny the Elder, its excellence was comparable to the liquid gold coming from the Spanish province of Hispania Baetica and second only to the Italian oil from Venafro. Marcus Valerius Martialis, the most important Roman writer of epigrams, also dedicated exceptional praise to the Istrian olive juice that he compared to the beauty of his native Cordoba. As well as written testimonies, the Romans also left numerous remains of ancient oil presses and amphora’s all along the western coastline; and olive groves of native varieties have been found, such as the Istrian Bjelica, Buža and Karbonera. It is known that there were many rustic villas on the island of Brijuni, where more than 300,000 liters of oil were produced yearly. Here, as an integral part of its fascinating landscape, there is an old olive tree that is more than 1,600 years old, whose fruit is picked by hand in October and still produces high-quality EVOO -an average of 65 pounds of olives a year, from which 4.1 liters of extra virgin is extracted.- An exceptional tree, with its crown spreading over 22 m. (72 ft.) wide, 6 m. (20 ft.) tall, and a 2,5-m. (8 ft.) trunk diameter, and is quite the survivor: a storm split it in two during the 70's.

The Brijuni National Park is a heavenly garden with a view of the sea, made up of forests, parks, meadows, orchards and other artificially created areas, where hardy olive trees, oak trees, Mediterranean brush -macchia- and other species such as holly, strawberry trees, myrtle or terebinth live together harmoniously. There are nearly one thousand ancient olive trees on this archipelago of Karst origin, making up a unique forest ecosystem that, in the autumn, produces an abundance of olives. In 2001 a project was launched in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture at the Zagreb University, called Brijuni Olive, with the purpose of identifying and creating an inventory of rare olive varieties, amongst which there are 15 genotypes that stand out for their morphological characteristics, genetic singularity, exceptional quality oil and antiquity. After cloning these trees, a small garden of olive trees was planted on the island of Veliki Brijun, that can be admired by those visiting the National Park, giving them the chance to watch the harvesting of these uncommon fruits, from which a unique EVOO is obtained, under its own brand, and is cold extracted at the modern Palunko oil mill in Fažana.

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