The Art of Olive Oil
The olive oil sommelier and co-founder of Oleosophia Marianna Devetzoglou talks about olive oil and the hard work behind the scenes to bring an exceptional olive oil taste from their family table, to yours.
Olive trees are the Mediterranean region’s sacred blessing to us. It is not only the most important and must-have ingredient of the Mediterranean Cuisine, but also of natural beauty rituals with its healthy benefits. Hence the sublime plant’s popularity, growing over the years. However, perhaps, the olive oil industry has never developed this much that these days we find ourselves asking: what is a good olive oil? If you have not already thought of the rich, exquisite must-have flavour of olive oil, then perhaps you are not a big fan. Yet, for olive oil enthusiasts it is one important issue. And the question is do we really know what we are buying?
As follows, right on time, an industry entirely devoted to olive oil tasting has emerged, informing aficionados that want to make sure they are getting the most authentic taste. Introducing olive oil sommeliers… they understand, and surely enjoy, high-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Through careful practice, they develop the ability to identify positive qualities such as freshness, variety or flavourfulness; or negative ones such as rancidity, fustiness or mustiness.Marianna Devetzoglou is one of them. Coming from a family that has long-lasting traditions of olive oil making, underlines the importance of producing, sharing and using a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
- Please tell us a little about your background. How and why did you come up with an idea to be an olive oil sommelier?
I come from an urban family with a scientific background; I studied physics in Athens, got my Master’s degree in London and worked in industry and research. When I met my husband George, I got to know more about nature and olive oil, falling gradually in love with the olive tree and the blessings it has given us. Aiming to combine tradition with science and being a firm believer in education, I decided to pursue an olive oil sommelier course to enrich my knowledge, better understand the olive tree and olive oil and to learn how to identify excellent or defective olive oils. This would help me improve our production and share knowledge with olive oil friends.
I attended and completed the course, becoming an Olive Oil Sommelier, certified by the International Culinary Centre and Olive Oil Times Education Lab and returned home to communicate my passion and knowledge to consumers and professionals around the world, with the aim of helping them achieve better quality of life, experience authentic flavours and identify high quality extra virgin olive oils. Keen to share the knowledge I have acquired, I work hard to communicate the benefits of extra virgin olive oil, the ways to make it part of our everyday life and why we should prefer smaller producers to international brands. Finally, I am a member of the Registry of Certified Olive Oil Sommeliers and a member of Women In Olive Oil (WIOO), representing the value of Integrity that is the core value of our family and working towards communicating the authenticity of our local Manaki variety and our region.
- What does your brand represent other than other olive oil brands?
Oleosophia is the result of a love story – a story that blossomed under the olive trees where I and George had numerous discussions about nature and modern practices. When creating Oleosophia, we did not just want to focus on the olive oil as a product; for us it’s all about the olive oil culture, the connection we have with the olive tree, the balance we seek with nature and the fact that everything was created in wisdom. As a result, our brand represents the wisdom of nature and olive oil, a connection depicted in our name, as “sophia” in Greek means wisdom. Through our logo, we aim to show the interconnection that man has with the olive tree, showing one embracing the other, in a beautiful, respectful balance.
- What about the process of production? Could you tell us about that?
The harvest and production season is a peak season for us, one that we prepare for throughout the year. We make sure to apply good agricultural practices and take care of the olive trees’ health in order to enter the harvest season with healthy olive fruits that will give us a healthy and high-quality olive oil. We begin our harvest early, approximately in mid-October, to produce our first harvest of extra virgin olive oil. We handpick the olives, taking extra care not to damage the fruit, store them carefully in well ventilated means and take them to the olive mill on the same day for pressing. At the same time, we keep notes of weather conditions and collection and milling parameters in order to keep track of our processes for quality management purposes.
The first olive oil to be produced is always celebrated, with all family members being eager to taste it! After pressing all the olives and producing the olive oil of the day, it is transferred into stainless steel tanks for safe storage. The harvest lasts for about one month, ending in early to mid-November, with the family collecting and milling every day. Finally, our team makes sure to attend seminars and keep up with trends and progress made in the olive oil industry in order to apply and improve our practices. Harvest season is a high intensity season for us, but the result is greatly rewarding – high-quality, healthy and tasty Manaki extra virgin olive oil with rich aromas and a balanced sensory profile.
- Which consumers do your products reach?
Our products are found in delicatessen and fine food shops in Europe, USA and Australia as well as online shops that aim to provide consumers with artisan products, made by families and small producers that maintain the local character and true flavours of the products. Our customers seek unique experiences and high-quality products that take them on a gastronomic trip and enrich their health without missing out on flavour!
- How are Manaki olives different? What makes them different?
The Manaki variety that we cultivate in our family olive grove is a sensitive variety that is mainly used for the production of high quality, high-end extra virgin olive oil. The variety is found only in 2 areas in Greece and is not cultivated in other countries, making the experience of Oleosophia an authentic one, one you may explore when travelling in our region.
Moreover, Oleosophia monovarietal extra virgin olive oil holds a Health Claim certificate for its phenolic content – this means that consumers may use Oleosophia as a health supplement, not just as a tasty ingredient in their everyday cooking. Both our monovarietal and our varietal combination have been awarded with a GREAT TASTE AWARDS 2020, one of the most prestigious food competitions globally. Finally, Oleosophia is not just a product – partners and consumers can enjoy this unique variety, participate in our online workshops and also, visit our olive grove to experience olive oil tours, olive oil tasting and food pairing guided by our Olive Oil Sommelier. Our vision is to create a community of Oleosophers and let people enjoy Oleosophia, learn about our ethos and olive oil culture and become part of our family.
- What do you love most about your job?
I love connecting with people and sharing with them the importance of olive oil in their life, health and habits. I find it very exciting to interact with consumers and buyers, transfer my knowledge and see the amazement in their eyes when they taste, smell and experience high quality olive oil and of course, our manaki variety. Through this experience, I connect with people in a unique way and for me, it is definitely a rewarding feeling!
- Your family has long-lasting traditions of olive oil making. But obviously, it is impossible to use only ancient traditions to make this premium olive oil nowadays. How do you manage to combine modern technologies and your ancestors’ knowledge to create the exclusive product?
Ancient practices and traditions mean a lot in our culture and have greatly defined the character, the history and the importance of olive oil in our life. However, as modern means progress, it is indeed impossible to keep applying old and traditional practices to produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil. To ensure we produce an exclusive product, our team constantly pursues continuous education and seminars regarding olive cultivation, good agricultural practices, olive oil production practices, olive oil tasting and assessment and more. Continuously learning and enriching our knowledge is what has set us apart. It is a never-ending process but one we certainly enjoy! Moreover, we always assess and invest in new equipment and facilities and we actively network in our industry in order to exchange ideas, knowledge, information and collaborations with other producers and olive oil professionals.
- What are the benefits of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) compared to other varieties?
EVOO is the healthiest and highest quality olive oil that one can consume. Our variety, the Manaki variety, has a smooth and well-balanced profile, with aromas of green tomato and grass while it is only cultivated in 2 areas in Greece. This makes it a very unique variety and definitely an authentic experience, one that takes you on a gastronomic trip to Greece and our village. Moreover, in food pairing, the Manaki variety is easy to incorporate in our daily cooking; it tastes great with chicken, raw, grilled, boiled and cooked vegetables, pasta, sauces while it is a healthy and tasty replacement for butter in baking! A fun tip – try it on vanilla ice cream or yogurt!
- What are the most challenging things in owning the olive grove and producing olive oil for you?
There are many challenges in being a producer of olive oil. First of all, you need to take care of your olive trees so that they can grow and produce high quality olive oil. This means that you need to be consistent with the care of the olive trees, as well as facing unpredictable factors like unfavourable weather conditions, insects and plant disease that are inevitably elements of nature. Furthermore, the time and manner of harvesting takes place can also influence the properties of the olive oil. Organising consequent harvest, olive oil production and bottling surely requires our best organisational skills and excellent collaborations with the people in the mill and bottling facilities. Then comes the promotion and sales part, which is also very challenging. Approaching potential clients and growing a network requires a lot of time and effort in order to communicate our product value but with patience and resilience the results are rewarding.
- How and where can people who want to taste Oleosophia purchase the product?
We work with fine foods stores and delicatessens, while we keep growing our network. We are currently present in France, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, USA, Australia and Greece, both in stores and online. For more information, you can reach out to www.oleosophia.com or our social media accounts (@oleosophia) to direct you to the closest shop accordingly.
- What recommendations can you give for picking the finest olive oil?
Picking high quality extra virgin olive oil is very important in order to add value to our health, our gastronomy and of course, to have confidence in the quality of the product. I strongly advise consumers to look for “extra virgin olive oil” only. Terms such as “natural olive oil”, “light olive oil”, “pure olive oil”, “refined olive oil” or even plain “olive oil” refer to a mixture of olive oils that have undergone chemical processing in industry. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is a natural juice that comes directly from the olive fruit. It has not been processed in any way. Also, seek for appropriate packaging. Plastic bottles are not suitable for olive oil. It is recommended to purchase olive oil that is bottled only in dark, glass bottles because sunlight and plastic cause degradation in the product. Storage conditions play an important role as well – store in a dry and cool place, away from sunlight. Oxygen is another degradation causing factor, so always close the lid! Another important thing to look for when buying olive oil is where you buy it from; opt for smaller shops, deli shops that bring products directly from producers. The olive oil you will find there will be authentic, unique and carefully produced by small producers.
- In your opinion, what makes olive oil a luxury product?
High quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is a product that plays an important role in our health, our cuisine and our culture. In a way, it is a luxury product in that, apart from adding to the taste, it is the healthiest fat we can consume. It is found on every table, in almost every dish, it is used to shield our body against aging and diseases and it gives us valuable antioxidants to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, extra virgin olive oil is, first and foremost, a health investment for ourselves, our family and our loved ones and this is what makes it a luxury product. When purchased from shops that support small producers and artisan products, it is a luxury because it takes you to the land where it is made, it gives you a taste of its origin and it reveals to you its true identity – an identity that is uniquely linked to its quality. For all the above reasons, extra virgin olive oil should be an everyday luxury that everyone should enjoy, produced by artisan producers and purchased from delicatessen and fine food shops at fair prices for all involved.
- What about the packaging of your products…Could you tell us more about the bottles and the boxes? What is your aim with the physical presentation of your product?
Our packaging is meant to be minimal and highly aesthetic as we are fans of “more is less”. The logo depicts a human embracing an olive tree to communicate the eternal coexistence between the two; a high-quality olive oil with respect to the tree itself and Nature. Moreover, the bottle is darkly tinted glass, which is the best material to protect the olive oil from oxidation from light and it is of utmost importance to us that the olive oil is as preserved and protected by our packaging as possible. Having dark tinted glass, which can also be recycled, enables us to avoid any further packaging eg. box, making us as environmentally friendly as possible. Finally, the overall presentation of Oleosophia aims not only to please consumers aesthetically, but also become part of their daily routine and a perfect option for a sophisticated and valuable gift.
- Would you consider producing other products (beauty etc.) from olives and olive oil?
Yes! In fact, we have already started working on olive oil-based soaps and beauty products to enhance natural beauty, show people the many different ways with which we can include olive oil in our lives and encourage men and women around the world to use natural cosmetics. We hope to launch them soon and add them to our olive grove visit experience! At the same time, we have launched our olive oil tasting sessions and agro tourism activities in our olive grove, where people can visit us, explore the olive trees and the Manaki olive oil, learn about the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil and the ways they can use it in their cooking, and experience an olive oil tasting with us!