Maximising olive oil quality
The steps of olive oil production can be performed with a view to increase the quality and polyphenol content of the oil. Olives contain their highest levels of polyphenols just before they begin to change colour from green to black. Once they are picked, they begin oxidising - so the sooner they are pressed, the better. By using a modern press, temperature is minimised - when malaxation temperatures are kept below 27 degrees celcius, oil meets 'Cold Pressed' standards - the lower the temperature, the less the oil is damaged as it is extracted from the fruit.
Militsa Olive Oil's method
Beginning with the best cultivar, trees are harvested by hand in the traditional manner. The groves are monitored for ripening and harvested at the optimum time - while the olives are still green but are about to turn golden and then black. Olives are taken to press the same day they are picked, and the unblended oil is then bottled. This is Militsa Olive Oil's Early Harvest Extra Virgin olive oil, which consistently returns lab tests of 0.2% FFA.
Taking this procedure one step further, Militsa Olive Oil's Limited Release Extra Virgin olive oil uses only the very first olives of the season. The olives are taken to press within just a few hours of picking, and the malaxers on the press have only cold water introduced into them. The oil extraction takes longer and results in less oil yield - but the olive oil is of superlative quality, with an exceptionally low acidity (around 0.185% FFA) and a freshness of taste and subtlety of scent that puts it in a class leagues ahead of mass-produced commercial olive oils. The life of this oil, when stored correctly (away from heat and light) well exceeds the maximum permitted Australian best before date of two years from production.
Olea europaea europaea, cultivar: Koroneiki
There are thousands of olive cultivars throughout the world. Many are region specific, and a few are renowned as exceptional producers of olives for particular purposes (such as Kalamata for table olives). The Koroneiki variety originated in Messinia, most likely being named after the town Koroni. It is relatively difficult to cultivate, with the best examples of this variety surviving in regions of Greece where the climate is preferred by the tree - such as Messinia and the Mani, Laconia, and areas of Crete. It produces an oil of such high quality that it is the only tree currently planted for oil production in Messinia! Some producers blend it with other cultivars to increase the quality of these less favourable varieties.
An extremely hardy tree, the olive has been cultivated in Greece for thousands of years. A gift from Athena to the Greeks, it has been the staple of their diets ever since. Even today, the villagers of Messinia use it in large quantities in every meal. It has many purported health benefits, and is a contributing factor in the theory of the link between the Mediterranean diet and longevity. Many of the trees in Messinia have been continuously harvested for thousands of years!
Polyphenols and olive oil
Extra Virgin olive oils contain high levels of polyphenols. Of all the varieties, Koroneiki olives contain the highest levels of these natural antioxidants. These elements are what gives the 'bite' in the aftertaste of good quality oils. The higher the polyphenol content of an oil, the more resistant it is to oxidation, so the oil will maintain its qualities longer and have a greater shelf life. With more antioxidants, such oils have a lower free acidity (FFA), and its health benefits only increase.