Ode to olives

Ode to olives

AYLİN ÖNEY TAN - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Ode to olives Olives are life for Mediterranean people. All the countries that have shores on the “Sea of Civilizations” consider it sacred. The olive tree is their sustenance; life revolves around it; in a way, all the mighty civilizations owe their existence to the olive. The olive is the fruit of happiness.

The olive harvest season has just begun; the green, grassy, early harvest oil has already been bottled. The harvest season usually begins in October, but the full harvest usually starts in November, depending on the region. Southern regions usually start a bit earlier, with the harvest work moving slowly north thereafter.

The best olive oil comes from the north Aegean; the town of Ayvalık being like the epicenter of olive groves in Turkey. On Nov. 1-2, the Ayvalık Chamber of Commerce organized its Olive Harvest Festival for the 10th time. This year, at the 10th anniversary of the festival, it was like a family reunion, as all the food- and economy-related Turkish press came together with olive oil producers and friends from Ayvalık. Apart from being the celebration of the first decennial, there was something special during this harvest. The renowned former head of the chamber, Rahmi Gençer, who first initiated the festival, is now the mayor of Ayvalık. This creates a huge advantage for a town that is so associated with olives.

Gençer knows all about the problems of the sector. He, once a producer himself, had been the leading force behind the geographical appellation registration of Ayvalık olive oil back in 2007. Now he is initiating new projects, one being the restoration of the old Kırlangıç soap and olive oil factory building.

The factory, adjacent buildings and the whole area on the coastline will undergo a major transformation, designed by the eminent Turkish architect Ersen Gürsel and his team. The planned cultural zone, built on 20,000 square meters and covering 7,000 square meters of closed space, will also host a Population Exchange Museum, as well as an Olive Museum, complete with exhibition areas, a cinema and concert venues. 

Another piece of exciting news is that Ayvalık Olive Harvest Festival has decided to go international, welcoming guests from Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco and Jordan. Embracing other Mediterranean olive cultures will hopefully carry the festival to an international level for many other decennials to come. This year, two notable organizations were guests at Ayvalık: RE.C.O.MED, the Network of Mediterranean Olive Oil Towns (Rete delle Città dell’Olio) and QvExtra, a Spain-based international association for quality control. These two international organizations have shared interests, the former creating a network of olive-growing towns, the latter forming a network of quality assured olive oil producers.

Launched in Italy, RE.C.O.MED aims at uniting olive oil-producing towns, its founder, Enrico Lupi, being the legendary former president of the International Olive Oil Council. The main objectives of the association can be listed as organizing scientific conferences, generating centers of information, establishing network of contacts and linked events and creating open-air eco-museums. In short, it is designed to form a friendship and foster solidarity between populations who have olive oil in their veins all across the Mediterranean basin. 

QvExtra is a private, non-profit association created by a group of olive oil producers aiming to inform the consumer of the extraordinary physical, sensory, nutritional characteristics of extra virgin olive oil. The group is also trying to form a system to assure the quality of products; facilitate contacts and the exchange of know-how among EVOO producers; share expertise in improving the quality and storage conditions and promote its use in the kitchen.

The association created a seal of quality, SIQEV, a brave promise to ensure consumers that under this seal they’ll get the true extra virgin in the best conditions as possible.

Olive oil is actually a fruit juice. To get the best of it, it has to be carefully packed and stored, kept away from heat and light until consumed. So this seal of quality aims at not only keeping the quality in production but in packaging and storing.

The fact that these two organizations are branching out into Turkey will help Ayvalık olive oils sustain their quality and receive recognition in the international arena. This year the harvest theme was “Olive: the Cord of Life.” It is a cleverly chosen caption, pointing to the danger of the new proposed mining law threatening olive groves. Turkey ranks fourth in the world in olive oil production, and second in table olives; but unfortunately, the new laws may create a serious decline in production. Olives are really the umbilical cord feeding the whole population of the north Aegean.

This life cord is now trying to grasp at ties with international solidarity networks in an effort to secure its future. The olive tree is evergreen. Hopefully the silvery green of olives will continue to shine forever in the north Aegean. This year the theme of the harvest is like an ode to the olive, the veins of life!
Recipe of the Week: This sauce comes to the rescue when you need something quick. Make it ahead of time and keep in a jar, when needed just shake and use; or alternatively add a spoonful to your mayonnaise or other salad dressings for an extra zingy lemony flavor. Cut 1 whole lemon (preferably organic) into quarters; put in a blender; add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil, preferably early harvest. Whizz until smooth. You may add herbs of your choice like a few leaves of basil, or some fresh dill, or a few sprigs of fresh thyme according to where you intend to use it. With dill, it is good with plain boiled or grilled squash, with basil it will make a perfect tomato salad, with thyme it will transform a shepherd’s salad. Keep in a jar refrigerated for further use.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: Ayvalık is host to many good restaurants. A trip to Ayvalık is never short of delightful new discoveries. Over the weekend, the newly opened Labris Boutique Hotel in Cunda cheered us with its delightful breakfast, with specials like an olive oil herb omelet and a squash and dill börek; complete with various homemade jams. www.otellabris.com.tr

Another delightful lunch was in Beyaz Yalı, the triangular little fried “muska börek” filled with chargrilled eggplant puree was phenomenal. http://www.beyazyali.com/

Cork of the Week: Two outstanding wines, LA Mon Rêve Chardonnay Chenin Blanc and LA Mon Rêve Montepulciano, accompanied the lunch at Sızmahan hosted by Kristal olive oil. These wines never fail to satisfy, both from the same group with Kristal oils, the Arkas Holding.