Costumed children onstage in front of an audience, with an olive tree in the center

This year’s first World Olive Day event in Crete offered a glimpse of some Cretan olive oil sector activities, successes, and concerns. Scientists gave advice on olive oil extraction, trading, and olive mill waste management and reviewed developments in olive oil production and exports, then children presented a play, and olive mills received awards.

Recognized by the International Olive Council, the World Olive Day events at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh) on November 15 and in other parts of the island later in the month focus on Crete's olive oil production in relation to the environment, health, culture, quality, and the economy.

At MAICh, local and regional dignitaries joined major players in the Cretan olive oil world, olive oil producers and exporters, elementary school students, and other citizens to emphasize that olive oil is a crucial part of Cretan culture, history, and life, as Nikos Kalogeris, Deputy Regional Planning Director, commented, and to consider ways Cretans can still raise their olive oil production to a higher level.

Chemist Manolis Michelinakis, director of the Laboratory of the Olive Oil Union of Heraklion, discussed best practices during all phases of olive oil extraction and trading. For example, he explained the elements that affect olive oil quality, including cultivation, olive variety and ripeness, the environment, and how olives are handled after their harvest and during oil production. Michelinakis offered some general pointers, such as avoidance of excessive oxygen, heat, and light, and then described olive oil’s chemical composition, mentioning the various health benefits derived from its different components.

After agronomist Manolis Vegliris outlined the regulations for olive mill waste management and its effects on the environment, agronomist Nikos Michelakis, the scientific consultant for the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities (ACOM) and former director of the Olive Institute of Chania, reviewed developments in the production and trading of olive oil at both the local and international levels. Michelakis reported that olive oil is still primarily a Mediterranean product, although limited amounts of it are now being produced in other parts of the world.

Michelakis pointed out that the USA is one of the biggest markets for olive oil, with increasing demand and a limited homegrown supply. He also noted that standardized exports to the US are decreasing, while bulk exports are higher—a concern for exporters interested in bringing the added economic value from bottling and branding to Greece. By far the most standardized olive oil exported to the USA comes from Italy, with Spain and Tunisia also ahead of Greece.

In Crete, according to Michelakis, olive oil production has increased considerably since 1975. In recent years, the island’s maximum production was 118,000 metric tons, although this year’s total is expected to be closer to the average for the last five years, approximately 80,000 tons. Crete now exports 75% of its olive oil in bulk, largely to Italy; the largest share of its bottled and branded olive oil heads to Germany.

After the adults’ discussions of the olive oil sector, beautifully costumed students from the nearby 2nd Elementary School of Souda sang, danced, acted, and recited poems about the olive fly and the damage it causes. Written by the Cretan author and retired teacher Angela Malmou, the theatrical presentation emphasized the need for a more efficient approach to olive fly population control.

Children in several types of traditional Cretan costumes danced, hit an olive tree with sticks, pretended to harvest and gather olives, and sat around a café table singing and discussing the olive fly. Small children dressed in black as olive flies and blackbirds recited poems, pretended to leave olive fly eggs in a giant model of an olive, and performed an olive fly larvae dance around the giant olive.

This was one result of ACOM’s ongoing effort to educate children about the Cretan olive oil world. That effort began several years ago in collaboration with Angela Malmou, who also helped write the educational books about olive oil for both Greek and Anglophone children that ACOM has distributed free at various Cretan hotels. With 30 years’ experience as a kindergarten teacher working on theatrical projects with children, Malmou has now written, produced, and published five plays focused on the olive oil world which ACOM has distributed at no charge to interested schools.

Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa chairperson accepting an award

After Malmou and the students and teachers received commendations for their efforts, selected Cretan olive mills were awarded for excellence in olive oil production techniques and trading and distribution practices. For the second year, the top winner for best practices in olive oil extraction, and now the second-place winner for trading and distribution, was the Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa in Lasithi, eastern Crete. As their website says, “their passion and commitment to quality drives them to ensure that each drop of Extra Virgin olive oil, cold-pressed within 3 hours of harvest in their own olive press, thus preserving the highest possible food values, consistently produces the best taste year after year.”

The highest score for trading and distribution of olive oil went to Terra Creta in Kolymvari, western Crete; the company was also recognized for very good milling practices, with awards in both categories last year as well. Terra Creta was awarded for their innovative, quality oriented extraction procedures along with their excellent relationship with farmers, and also for the transparency and efficiency of their carefully developed and targeted distribution of their extra virgin olive oil in the global market. (See below for the complete list of winners.)

Terra Creta's latest awards in front of some bottles of their olive oil

A joint effort of the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities (ACOM), the Region of Crete, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania, and the Olive Institute, the World Olive Day events in Crete were organized with the cooperation of the Municipalities of Chania, Rethymno, Gortyn, and Agios Nikolaos, as well as the Directorate of Primary Education and Schools of Crete.

Additional events will be held in Rethymno on November 24 (where awards for hotels that help promote standardized olive oil will be presented), in Gergeri, Heraklion on November 27, and in Kritsa and Agios Nikolaos on November 28. Children’s theatrical presentations will take place at the events in Rethymno and Gergeri, while the Agios Nikolaos event will focus on organoleptic analysis training for teachers who can pass on their knowledge to a new generation of potential olive oil producers.

Awards for Olive Mills

(with the highest scores first)

For Best Practices in Olive Oil Extraction

Gold
Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa
Botzakis SA
Agricultural Cooperative of Emparos

Silver
Terra Creta
Almpantakis

Bronze
Agricultural Cooperative of Meskla
Protogerakis
Agricultural Cooperative of Lithines

Honorable Mention
Agricultural Cooperative of Agios Myronas
Agricultural Raisin and Olive Oil Cooperative of Sitia
Kokolakis
Agricultural Cooperative of Platanos


For Best Practices in Trading and Distribution

Gold
No award

Silver
Terra Creta
Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa
Agricultural Cooperative of Emparos
 
Bronze
Almpantakis
Botzakis

Honorable Mention
Agricultural Cooperative of Platanos
Agricultural Raisin and Olive Oil Cooperative of Sitia
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Thanks to Manolis Karpadakis of Terra Creta for the photo at the top of the page and the picture of Terra Creta’s awards.

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