On a visit to Crete there is one thing that is impossible to miss: olive trees. Olive oil is vital to the local economy as well as the backbone of the Mediterranean diet. The average Cretan consumes over 30 liters of olive oil annually. But we are not the only ones consuming Cretan olive oil. Cretan olive oil accounts for 5% of the world's olive oil production. More than half of Crete's land is planted with olive trees. While almost every village has an olive mill, none are quite like Biolea.
Biolea Astrikas Estate is a family owned and operated olive oil mill located in rolling hills of the municipality of Kolymbari. Their focus is making the best possible organic olive oil while respecting tradition and the environment.
When visiting Biolea, you will meet Chloe Dimitriadis, who is a 6th generation olive oil producer. She greets you with a warm smile and a plethora of knowledge. Biolea produces olive oil only from olive trees that they own, care for, and harvest themselves. This ensures that the olives are organic and that the harvesting process is done gently to maintain the highest possible quality. The olive oil is produced from the koroneiki olive variety. It is a hearty varietal that can withstand the winds and altitude of the area surrounding the mill.
Chloe helps cut through the buzz words on some olive oil labels to allow you to choose quality olive oil at home. For example, the words ‘fresh,’ ‘light,’ or ‘pure’ on an olive oil label have no legal meaning and can be used to market a less than desirable product. The words to look for are extra virgin which guarantees only the acidity level of the olive oil and that it is in fact made from olives as opposed to olive oil blended with corn oil, sesame oil, or sunflower oil.
The next words to look for are “cold extracted” or “cold pressed.” This means that during production, the oil did not exceed 27 degrees Celsius. This low temperature is necessary to maintain the health benefits of olive oil as well as the flavors and aromas. If oil is heated beyond that, the antioxidants and phenols burn off. Lesser quality olive oils are not cold pressed because when heat is added more oil can be extracted from each olive.
If you examine an olive oil label carefully, you may find that the “Italian Olive Oil” you’re thinking about buying was only packaged in Italy but the actual oil came from 5 different countries. That’s why it’s important to look for a place of origin, not just place of bottling. You can imagine that the quality level drops if it’s being shipped across the Mediterranean.
Only the highest quality olive oils will also have a harvest date on the label. Olive oil should be consumed within a year of the harvest date for the highest possible health benefits.
Chloe explains the production process from harvest to bottling. During production months, visitors can watch from upstairs. Otherwise, Chloe takes you through the process step by step.
Biolea stone mills their olives. Thankfully, the huge stones are not turned by a donkey like they were years ago. Chloe’s father, George, designed robotics to mimic the traditional way of making olive oil to comply with modern hygiene standards. The olive paste that’s created after being milled is placed between woven mats made from plastic fibers instead of goat hair or other found materials that were used traditionally. Once lightly pressed in a modern hydraulic machine, the olive oil is left to separate from the olive juice naturally before bottling.
At the end of the tour, you can taste the original olive oil as well as one infused with organic lemons and another infused with organic neratzia, or bitter orange. The taste of Biolea’s olive oil is unlike anything you’ve ever had. It’s a pure, unadulterated gift from Mother Nature. It is hard to consume just any olive oil after you’ve had the best.
You can visit Biolea on our Wine Adventure Tour or add it to a customized tour.