View from Biolea, looking over olive groves to hills, cliffs, sea, and sky

Biolea was born when Yiorgos Dimitriadis returned to his native Crete in the early 1990s and decided to rejuvenate the olive groves that had been in his family for five generations. Determined to be kind to the environment, he turned to organic olive cultivation and dedicated himself to fulfilling his vision of high quality, artisanal olive oil production.

Interested in creating a destination where visitors from around the world could learn about traditional Greek olive oil production, Yiorgos and his Canadian wife Christine created a modern, hygienic version of an old stone mill and hydraulic olive press that could be viewed from a visitors’ mezzanine. Living in Crete after twenty years in Canada, they began reaching out to people from various parts of the world with their sustainable agrotourism and exports. 

Biolea now continues under the direction of Yiorgos and Christine’s daughter Chloe, who reversed the brain drain of the Greek economic crisis to return to Crete after earning her bachelor’s degree in Canada, because (she said) her “heart was here in Crete.”

Chloe literally followed in her father’s footsteps, learning from him about organic cultivation, olive oil production, and agrotourism and then continuing her father’s “innovation through tradition,” as she describes it. Chloe has also transformed the lovely stone farmhouse next to the family’s olive mill into a destination where visitors from Greece and around the world can enjoy cultural happenings and celebrate special events, such as weddings.

Just outside a small Cretan village, in the midst of rolling hills covered with the silvery green of olive trees, the Dimitriadis family’s Astrikas Estate is a wonderful place for celebrations of both special days and the everyday beauty of nature. A drive to Astrikas, heading inland from Kolymbari toward the White Mountains on winding roads through quiet villages, is such a picturesque treat that photographers will be tempted to stop frequently.

The area’s scenery is at its most dramatic and impressive from Biolea’s terraces, 300 meters above sea level, where visitors can admire the view of Koroneiki olive groves extending to rocky hills and sheer cliffs that reveal wedges of sea in the distance. Thousands of tourists admire this view each year. During educational tours, they also observe the traditional three-stone mill and olive presses up close (except during the harvest) and from the tasting room and shop in the mezzanine above the mill and presses.

An updated version of the mills of Roman times, Biolea’s may be the only certified traditional stone mill that meets food safety standards in Crete, and perhaps Greece, today. There may be only a few dozen working stone mills in the Mediterranean these days. Biolea is well worth a visit, because visitors can see how the organic olive oil is produced and bottled, watching a video and hearing about how the traditional machines function. (Call ahead to arrange a free guided tour.)

Biolea's granite millstones crushing olives into paste

Biolea is an excellent place to start an olive oil education, because the production process is more transparent and easy to understand than in a modern mill. Washed olives are poured under the three granite millstones for crushing. The resulting olive paste is then mechanically distributed onto round white pressing filters that are piled on top of each other on carts. A large pile of filters is moved to the hydraulic olive press for traditional cold pressing until olive oil and juices run down the sides in hundreds of little streams. 

Tourists and schoolchildren can learn how organic whole lemons or bitter oranges (nerantzi) are poured onto the stone mill with the olives to produce pastes that become unique mixtures of oil and citrus in Biolea’s LemoniO and NerantziO organic condiments. These delicious blends of citrus and olive oil, apparently a unique invention, are available for tasting, along with Biolea’s organic extra virgin olive oil.

Focused on responsible, sustainable innovation in their own special niche, Biolea may be one of the most environmentally conscious olive oil producers in Greece, as well as one of relatively few with a vertically integrated company. The trees on Astrikas Estate are sprayed with dust, not pesticide, to repel the olive fly. There is no irrigation, Chloe explains, in order “to avoid wasting precious water resources” and to avoid putting “plastic non-biodegradable pipes in the field.” There is no plowing, since “soil erosion is a huge problem in Crete.”

Biolea's cold press machinery produces less than half as much liquid waste as centrifugal production and consumes 1/3 of the electrical energy and 10% of the water needed to produce 1 kilogram of olive oil during centrifugal production. At Biolea, water is only used for cleaning, not added to the olive paste.

The company recycles the solid waste from the olive paste by burning it to heat water, make steam (used for cleaning), and heat the factory with pipes under the floors. Biolea is certified by ISO 14001, which means they “monitor all aspects of the production (electricity, water, waste) and make specific plans to improve our impact on the environment every year,” as Chloe says. 

Chloe explains that their attention to sustainability means “less production and yield, but it does translate into a more concentrated and healthy olive oil.” Analysis at the National and Kapodistrian University in Athens showed just how healthy their oil is: it contains nearly six times the amount of polyphenols required for the EU Health Claim about protecting blood lipids from oxidative stress (Regulation 432/2012). Chloe comments that this gives “us extra validation for our claim that the simplicity of our production method and the fact that we don't add any heat or water helps preserve all the health benefits inside the olive oil.”

Yiorgos explained that the sugars remain in the stone milled oil, unlike oil processed in the modern way. The millstones crush the olives but never cut them, so bitter agents are not released into the oil, and the oil tastes milder than many extra virgin olive oils. Those looking for a healthy, unusually mild or sweet extra virgin olive oil can try this unique single estate, organic stone-milled alternative to olive oils produced in typical modern factories.

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Thanks to Biolea for the photo of the their granite millstones crushing olives into paste.