Four bottles of Pamako olive oil outdoors

In 2014, Eftihis Androulakis decided to transform the traditional work of generations of family members into a small, cutting-edge olive oil business. He called it Pamako after the linear B ideograms for “medicine,” a good choice since his organic, high phenolic extra virgin olive oil has won awards for both its health benefits and its quality and flavor.

With the help of his family and his partner, Dorothea Ritter, Androulakis has dedicated himself to a unique combination of tradition and innovation, with striking results. Reviving the relatively rare Tsounati olive variety (also known as Mastoidis and Athinolia) in his family’s mountain olive groves, he has produced some of the first extra healthy extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) made from this variety. Tsounati olives are traditionally left to drop from trees when over-ripe, making it difficult to produce high quality EVOO. However, Pamako Tsounati EVOO has won recognition as one of the highest phenolic olive oils in the world (meaning one of those with the most oleocanthal and oleacein and hence the most anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective activity).

In addition to winning recognition for their health benefits and being two of the first Greek olive oils certified as eligible for the official health claim about protecting blood lipids from oxidative stress (European Regulation 432/2012), Pamako olive oils have received awards for their quality and flavor in international olive oil competitions. These include especially impressive Gold and Silver medals at BIOL in Italy and a Silver medal at the Athena competition in Greece. Pamako Monovarietal is 100% Tsounati, with a fresh, fruity aroma, strong spicy elements, and a soft bitter taste. Pamako Blend is 60% Tsounati and 40% Koroneiki, with a strong, fresh fruity aroma with mildly spicy elements, and a mildly bitter taste.

Androulakis took his time preparing for this success, attending tasting seminars in Italy and Greece and supplementing them with four years of research on the internet, in Italy, and with Spanish and Greek experts. He prepared his own small bottling plant, his packaging, and his storage facility with the utmost care for every detail, then experimented for several years to improve his olive oil before starting to sell it.

This innovative young man continues a traditional, rather dangerous harvesting process in his family’s clusters of centuries old olive trees, which are scattered around a rocky mountainside near the ancient city of Elyros and today’s village of Agriles in the prefecture of Chania in southwest Crete. Androulakis believes these trees survived the wars over the years because the villagers protected them more than their homes, enabling them to support the healthy lifestyle of Crete that became known as the Mediterranean diet

At an altitude of 500 to 700 meters, there is an ideal microclimate for olive growing. But with no road access and some trees as tall as 14 meters, they are both difficult to reach and hard to harvest. After a half hour hike up the mountain in early October, harvesters climb the trees to reach the olives, which they mainly pick by hand. They harvest very early to get the olives at their best and healthiest.

Other olive farmers wonder why Androulakis doesn’t make life easier by pruning his grand old trees more: “They called me crazy, destroyer of the trees, stupid—but now they call me to ask what to do.” He is planning experiments to determine what is best for the trees, but for now he avoids the constant pruning he believes makes trees struggle to produce new leaves, flowers, and olives. “I like to let them alone to do whatever they want; the more you let them reach for their food, the more phenolic compounds.” All organically cultivated, his olive trees grow in a very wild area that has not been sprayed in ten years.

Once the olives are harvested, the serious innovation and experimentation begins, with no corners cut due to expense or difficulty. Androulakis works with a miller who is willing to try new olive oil extraction methods, crushing only the best fruits, without the olive pit, at low temperatures (below 27 degrees Celsius), using the inert gas argon (which is approved for use in food) to exclude the oxygen that can damage olive oil. The resulting olive juice is stored in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperatures, away from sunlight. Androulakis aspires for the best, not the most; his average annual production is just 3.5 metric tons.

Pamako bottle with materials to make a cocktail including it

During bottling with the best stainless steel equipment from Italy, argon is used to exclude oxygen from dark glass bottles from Venice that are then sealed with natural Portuguese cork with a wooden finish that doesn’t affect the olive oil or its aromas. Since Androulakis attends to every detail, the package is completed with a Greek jeweler’s fastener and fishing line from Germany to keep the label attached.

Of course, the “point always was what’s going to be inside. I want it to be fresh. I want to show people around the world that there are not only one or two olive varieties; there are older varieties, and they make miracles.” Androulakis works with researchers at the University of Athens, repeatedly testing both the flavor and the healthy phenolic compounds in an effort to discover how to make the perfect Tsounati EVOO. “One day I will make Tsounati one of the best known olive oils.” 

This young entrepreneur says he is “crazy about olive oil’s organoleptic characteristics and their phenolic compounds,” crucial components of olive oil that scientists believe to be capable of curing and preventing numerous diseases, “because I believe olive oil can be more than a food or a superfood – it can be a hyperfood! It gives you aromas and taste on your plate. But it’s proven that it can improve your health, like a medicine. It’s time to create this hyperfood in Greece.”

What goes into the creation of an ultra premium, extra healthy, award winning organic extra virgin olive oil? Challenging, painstaking, traditional, innovative thought and labor. It’s all worth it to Eftihis Androulakis, Pamako’s creator.