ralo 2017 PRE-ORDER "NEW HARVEST" NEWSLETTER
Monday, March 20, 2017
[Pre-Order Deadline: Friday, March 31, 2017]
This year’s newsletter is the response to a challenge. “Robert, we know you can write a long, long newsletter. You’ve proved it now 15 years consecutively. But, can you write a short one?...”
THIS YEAR’S OLIVE HARVEST - IN A NUTSHELL
The worst harvest in at least fifty years.
Very little oil. Of that, most was of very poor quality. No IONIAN and no KORONI this year. It took a bit of work but we found 3 excellent oils, each and all delicious: Organic ARGOLID, organic KALAMATA and non-organic 42Trees. A slight price increase. Save by pre-ordering. 5 Litre tins of non-organic oil available for the first time. Limited quantities this year, especially 5 L tins. We return to Market in May, on a date to be announced, Saturdays only. Pre-order details follow. Photo Postscript.
THIS YEAR’S OLIVE HARVEST - CRACKING THE NUTSHELL
[Ok, having proved "short" was possible, you didn't really think I would stop there now, did you?]
This was the most challenging year ever. As stated, the worst harvest in the past 50 years or more.
As always, driving along the usual routes in early December, olive trees were visible everywhere, from mountain to sea.
But, seldom did I see the rising columns of smoke in the distance, from the gathered prunings set alight and gratefully sent as offerings to the harvest gods. Almost no pickup trucks parked on the edge of country roads, no crews busily combing through trees, and no harvesting nets or tarps stretched out quietly in olive groves in early morning, awaiting the day's fruit fellings.
On the positive side, there were no wagon-pulling tractors blindly darting onto the narrow roads without warning from hidden and unmarked farm lanes, forcing the slamming of brakes (and mercilessly spoiling latte art riding shotgun).
Driving past olive presses was a surreal experience in itself.
Normally, rows and rows of pallets loaded high with burlap bags of olives fill all the space outside olive presses. Within villages, a parade of pallets on both sides of the street would stretch for blocks and around corners.
This year? Most were like ghost towns. Only empty pallets or some with low piles of old empty burlap bags. No signs of any recent or imminent activity. In fact, most presses looked as they do in mid-summer: closed and totally abandoned, as if no one had been there since the end of last year's pressing season.
But, some areas did have olives and filled burlap bags standing upright in verdant groves was a most pleasing sight.
No one really knows why the harvest was so poor. It didn’t rain when it was needed, it rained when it wasn’t needed or it rained when it did harm. For unknown reasons, half the olives on a perfectly healthy-looking tree would fall to the ground overnight. A catastrophe.
In many areas (but thankfully, not all), there was an olive fruit fly infestation which meant billions of olives with billions of tiny bites taken out of them. Which means? Generally high acidity.
This year, even in a batch of generally healthy olives, one could see many which were withered and dry.
SOME WORDS ABOUT ACIDITY
Because of the olive fruit fly problem it was commonplace to hear of oils having 1.5%, 2.5% acidity and even higher in some cases. This was the Twilight Zone episode of the olive harvest. Consequently, each and every pressing of oil below the 0.8% acidity ceiling was noted and celebrated.
While safely within the acidity parameters for extra-virgin olive oils, all of the natural acidity values are generally a bit higher than in other years.
I use the phrase "natural acidity" because sipping my coffee in a café in one olive town I overheard one grower telling a group seated at a table, "There's a big buyer going around Peloponisos specifically looking for high acidity olive oils, even as high as 2%, 3% acidity because though prices are high, the prices of these oils are not as high. He takes them to a place where they pass the oil through a machine, and Voila! 0.3 acidity." By the way, such artificial reductions in acidity are not required to be disclosed, so don't be so proud or trusting of a label declaring low acidity levels.
Besides, we humans cannot tell the difference (when tasting) between oils of 0.3%, 0.6% and 1% acidity oils. The higher the acidity, the more oxidation that has taken place which means the longevity of the oil is diminished. This matters a lot for those who plan to warehouse the oil for a number of years.
However, since we bring in fresh, just-pressed oil every year, we buy only the best oil available. Every year.
For us, it's the natural, un-manipulated lowest acidity that matters, and as long as it's well clear of the upper limit, it is the flavour and other qualities of the oils that are determinative.
OF WINTER FLOWERS & JUST PLAIN WINTER
This was the coldest weather I have encountered in all the years I have visited Greece this time of year. There was a biting chill in the air when I arrived in early December that just didn't go away. Nevertheless, winter flowers were evident here and there.
And, since I stayed over the holidays, I got to experience a Canadian-style winter with snowstorms, closed highways and frigid temperatures.
Snow in the groves, and what happens to olive oil in cold temperatures.
THIS YEAR'S FRESH NEW OILS
This year's challenges meant a lot of driving, checking in with existing and past growers, meeting new ones and keeping in regular contact with all growers as the harvest progressed to find out how much oil was being produced and the quality of each lot pressed, as confirmed by testing both at the press and in the lab.
It was a roller-coaster ride, with plenty of suspense, right to the last minute. Ultimately, I found excellent oils, though not without difficulty and only after some inevitable disappointments. I had to reject oils which were above average for what was available but still not where we want our oils to be.
We have less oil coming this year than what we had last year when we sold out by mid-October. So when we say, 'place your order so you won't be disappointed' we mean it. This year especially so.
NO IONIAN & NO KORONI
Our IONIAN grower had olives, produced a decent (not great) quantity of oil but the acidity was twice the allowable limit for extra virgin olive oil. Our KORONI grower produced very little oil and what little he had was on the borderline. So, no oil from these growers this year. Next year.
THE ORGANIC ARGOLID OIL
You may recall that this grower has two varieties of olive trees in his groves, one that produces the smooth buttery oil and the other which tends towards the fruitier end of the spectrum.
This year the "smooth and buttery" variety was virtually non-existent so his oil is almost exclusively from the more flavourful variety. And, there was minimal olive fruit fly problem in his area so the acidity level is comfortably within the acceptable range.
What does this mean? The ARGOLID oil is likely still our "mildest" oil, but it is more flavourful and reaches the "MEDIUM" intensity level on the flavour spectrum, with leafy, bitter herbs that give it a detectable bitterness that will subside and smooth out over time, and a peppery finish.
THE ORGANIC SOUTH OF KALAMATA OIL
I have kept contact with the grower from South of Kalamata that we offered a few years ago. This is the grower who shared with me a wealth of intuitive knowledge about pruning and caring for organic olive trees. It is his oil that a Bologna-trained olive oil chemist had described as "caviar" after having tested and tasted it the last time we bought from him.
On a steep slope and on the inland flank of the mountain these groves are away from the sea, drain well and have relatively fewer visits from the olive fly. I had a hunch that the Kalamata grower was one of my best bets.
I have fond memories of a long ago harvest where this grower, his eighty-something year-old mother and a young helper were harvesting on a beautiful sunny day. I got a glimpse of an endangered family ritual that went back decades for this family and for millennia in this rough-hewn land.
How able this elderly lady was viewed by herself and her son was a stark contrast with the way elderly people see themselves and are treated by others in more "advanced" western societies. The tender exchanges between mother and son struck me as both archetypal and idyllic. Though Mom is no more, here is a flashback to that long ago harvest:
This grower's first few pressings were slightly disappointing and he left the oil with the olive press to be sold to wholesale merchants who are not so discriminating about quality. But he kept a very close eye on his trees, the olives and the weather.
He methodically and carefully proceeded through the harvest with an eye to optimizing quality. Ultimately, he was able to assemble a quantity of oil which, even in this most difficult of years, met our high standards.
The KALAMATA oil is of MEDIUM-HIGH intensity, with a clean smooth flavour, notable olive fruit and grassy tones, and a peppery finish.
THE 42 TREES OIL
You may recall that when I harvest my family's olive tress planted by our parents in the early 1950's, I take the olives to a particular olive press. This is not the closest press. Not by a longshot. In fact, there are approximately two dozen presses that are significantly closer to my village.
However, this press which is on the Ionian coast is so up-to-date, so clean and so well managed and operated that it is worth the drive (but it's not in Acton, and has nothing to do with leather). Our family's olive oil comes out cold and delicious, with its integrity, nutrients and vitamins intact. Every time.
I have checked in with the owner of the olive press every year since 2009. He is a stickler for quality and is a grower himself. He has been a trusted source of information for what's going on in the olive oil business in the region and has freely shared his knowledge with me even though we had not done any business with one another
He was really excited when he saw me. We talked about what a difficult year it was. I asked him about how his organic grower clients were faring this year. "If any good organic oil has been pressed in this area, I haven't seen it. If someone says they have some, don't believe it unless and until you see the lab report and take your own samples for your own testing as well. Think that I normally have several tons in my organic olive oil tank for my customers. It's sitting empty and will stay empty this year. The olive fruit fly was out of control. A small percentage of growers were spared. If you find them buy the oil. There's just not enough to go around."
He then asked if I had a few minutes. He stood up, handed me a laboratory analysis report of several pages, and said "Read this." He took an empty sample bottle and disappeared out of his office. A few minutes later he returned with the bottle filled with fresh olive oil from the same storage tank identified in the lab report.
"I have personally selected the oil in this tank. It is from the very best oils of the season, going back to early November, from growers I have known for many years. All from this area. What do you think of the lab report? Do you see the residues 'not detectable' values? This lab report is as good as for any organic oils. When I had the professional tasters in Kalamata taste this oil it sent them for a loop. They couldn't believe this kind of oil existed this year of all years. And that's before I showed them the lab analysis report."
So, I took the sample bottle and told him I would let him know my verdict in a few days. As I drove from village to village over the following days that bottle was my companion. From time to time I would remove the cap and took sips as if it was a water bottle. I didn't need more than a few sips to know that my initial impressions were correct. This was an outstanding oil. Nevertheless, by the time I made my final decision I had finished half the bottle.
For those of you who like our strongest tasting oil, in 2017 that is the non-organic 42 TREES oil. It has a luscious mouth feel, with tones of green grass, herbs, olive fruit and a lively peppery finish.
For the first time, our non-organic 42 TREES oil will be available in both 500 ml bottles and 5 Litre tins.
SOME MEALS THAT WERE
Next to questions about olive oil I am asked most often about the food in Greece. Here is a sampling (not all from the same day):
2017 PRE-ORDER PRODUCTS & PRICES:
To recap, we have a total of three (3) oils to choose from in 2017, 2 organic and 1 non-organic:
(NOTE: 5L Tins may differ in appearance from photos below)
NEW OIL TO BE RELEASED SPRING 2017
We expect the new fresh certified organic oils to be available for release in late April 2017.
Please note that we will not be at St. Jacobs Market until we announce the specific Saturday date both by email newsletter and by posting on our website homepage. Our first day will be sometime in May.
Please stay tuned for updates and bulletins announcing the arrival of the olive oil.
PRE-ORDER DEADLINE: Friday, March 31, 2017
You have until Friday, March 31, 2017 to place your pre-orders.
To get the pre-order discount you must meet that cut-off date.
2017 PRE-ORDER PROCEDURE
(Deadline Friday, March 31, 2017):
CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS NOW ACCEPTED!:
In addition to i) mailing a cheque, ii) sending an eINTERAC payment, you can now iii) securely pay for your pre-orders by Credit Card (VISA, MASTERCARD, AMEX, DISCOVER).
Here's how it works:
Thank you again for your continued support
We look forward to seeing you at the Market in May.
Robert and Deborah
ralo extra virgin olive oil
Call Deborah at: 519-574-1335 or email at email@example.com
Call Robert at: 519-580-0189 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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A MOST BEAUTIFUL OLIVE TREE
THE PATH OF THORNS
... may we make it through relatively unscathed, and find light on the other side...
King Agammemnon's Palace at Mycenae: of treasuries, tombs, a Lion's Gate, and olives all around...
REGIONAL BRANCH OF THE NATIONAL ART GALLERY (IN NAFPLION)
Heroes for liberty, 1821: wielding swords and words...
"We call forth one hour of freedom, and prefer it to 40 years slavery and prison."
"They made the middle sea a sea of the dead"; "We turned Greece into Tennessee"; ...if eyes, then tears
This van's far out, man, ... and who are these people who still remember the Summer of Love?
CITY OF THE NORTH: THESSALONIKI
ATHENS NEW YEAR FESTIVITIES
A TRANQUIL HARBOUR