This year’s olive oil from our trees is emerald green, quite peppery, and very aromatic!
We pressed it early with the help of our October KEArtisanal guests. As it trickled from the olive press, still warm and hazy, it tasted heavenly on slices of fresh bread, just out of the oven for the occasion.
We did not have a large production. Olive trees tend to have a good yield every second year, villagers say. Often pruned as they are harvested, olive trees need time for the new shoots to grow and fill with fruit. We drastically pruned our trees last year, as they had grown large and heavy. We were not expecting to gather many olives, but having purchased our home olive press the year before, we were more than eager to use it again, and share the joy with our guests.
Our olive picking lasted only a couple of days, and the olives were quite green in early October. Everyone on the island was surprised to hear we harvested so early. Last year, as we got the press quite late, in December, the olives we pressed were mature and dark and the olive oil they gave was somewhat bland. Since we like fruity olive oil, this year we harvested heretically early for the islanders, but with great results: a vibrant color, bursting with fruity flavors. The only thing some people may object to is the so-called ‘peppery taste,’ and the noticeable burning on the back of the throat. Agourelaio (olive oil from green olives) is supposed to “burn” a bit, a trait that subsides if the oil is left to mellow for a few weeks. In our case, though, we think an unlikely and uninvited guest enhanced the pungent taste.
A constant pest, the olive fly is a small insect — a species of fruit fly with a pointed belly – which lays its eggs inside the fruit of the olive tree. Their marks — which darken as the fruit ripens — are quite visible even on the green olives. The larvae feed on the olive flesh, gradually accelerating the rotting, resulting in more acidic-tasting olive oil. Our neighbors spray repeatedly to kill the olive fly and preserve the fruit intact. We chose not to.
The struggle against the insect is ubiquitous in Greece. Every year one hears about a new, non-toxic miracle solution, which proves to be as ineffective as the one of the preceding year. Our friend Yiannis, the island’s pharmacist, conveyed to us his own formula for fly traps: a contraption made by piercing a plastic water bottle with 3-4 straws, and half-filling it with a liquid concoction that would, theoretically, lure the fly through the straws, away from the olives, trapping it inside the bottle forever. Needless to say, Yiannis’ invention did not work, and will not help stimulate the Greek economy anytime soon.
There are many such traps, often called the McPhail traps, and we had used a few different ones in the past. All we succeeded to do was produce a stinky juice of various trapped, rotting, dead insects. So, reluctantly, we share our olives with the fly, the odious Bactrocera oleae. When it comes to olive oil, we discard only the visibly rotten fruit, and hand-select the olives we cure for our table. The olive oil we extract from our few trees is still delicious and pure, without a trace of insecticide or other chemicals. As to the occasional hints of fly larvae, after reading the New Yorker piece on entomophagy (insect eating), which seems to be the latest food trend, we decided we would no longer need to hide our acidic secret. I am sure many organic olive oils inevitably contain bits of ‘insect protein,’ and who knows, maybe the trend will catch, and bio-dependent oil will soon be a sought-after commodity…
Next year we hope to have a larger crop, weather permitting. So far, things do not look encouraging, though; a mild and sunny fall with warm sea until mid-November is not the ideal microclimate to help our trees produce plump olives that will yield plenty of olive oil. But it is still early, and perhaps the flies will do their best to make up for our indian summer.