Highly prized for its fine flavor, olive oil has been widely used particularly in the Mediterranean since the earliest historical times.
In Greek mythology, the olive tree was the symbol of Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. According to legend, when Athens, the most famous ancient Greek Cities, was being built, Poseidon and Athena competed for patronage of the city which was to be granted to the one presenting the most useful gift. Poseidon gave the horse, but Athena planted the olive tree, whereupon the city was awarded to her and named Athens.
Athena is one of the finest and aromatic olive oils produced.
It has an acidity rating that is extremely low, between 0 and 0,8%, a quality that can be matched by very few olive oils. The olive and its oil are not only ubiquitous in Greece, but a vital part of the regular diet. Along with being the world’s leading per capita consumers of olive oil and the world’s third largest producers, they happen to lead the world in percentage of output that is coveted extra virgin olive oil: approximately 80% of the olive oil produced in Greece is extra virgin, compared with approximately 50% of Italian and Spanish oils. Perhaps it is no surprise that many chefs and culinary experts consider Greek olive oil to be among the best in the world. Indeed, though Greece is the world’s largest producer and exporter of extra virgin olive oil, this leads to what might very well be the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Greek olive oil industry: they still sell the vast majority of their olive oil in bulk to Italy to be blended with local oil and labeled and sold as ‘Italian’ olive oil for international export. To some Greeks it is a situation that positively drips with the pathos and tragedy of ancient Athenian playwrights.
Given the tremendous global growth in the olive oil industry and the new-found fascination with culinary excellence, many Greek olive oil producers today are looking to expand their market share and become more competitive internationally. The ironic fact may be that the very same qualities that sometimes slowed down Greek olive oil marketing in the past may represent their best hopes for the future. Now that EVOO is actually in the dictionary and poised on the lips of epicures the worlds over, Greece may well be finding a way to take advantage of what have sometimes seemed drawbacks; isolation, classic techniques and small, individual growers. As long as the world’s thirst for the elixir that is EVOO continues to grow, the country that produces so much of it may be poised for a new era.