Olive harvest in full speed: Dim season, bright future

Olive harvest in full speed: Dim season, bright future

As olive harvest season is going on in full speed in Turkey, olive oil manufacturers have bitter feelings for the season. It appears that this year is not one of the fortunate years of the past decade or so. The yield changes every year, if one year is a year of plenty, the next year is doomed to be a poor one. Last year the harvest was satisfactory, this year naturally it is the year of paucity, but apparently problems are more complicated, beyond the usual seasonal cycles, it is more about the climate changes with lesser rainfall, higher heat, not strong enough winters. 

Turkey ranks fourth or fifth in the world in olive oil production, each year competing head to head with Tunisia to follow the top three world-leading producers Spain, Italy and Greece in descending order. In the recent years, there has been a rising trend to celebrate the olive harvest with festivities in most provinces in the olive-growing regions. The pioneering city was Ayvalık, now followed by Milas, Kuşadası, and Akhisar, all organizing a chain of activities to promote their olive oils and, of course, with the aid of olive, to show touristic assets of their region. 

When we talk about olives and olive oil, Ayvalık is the first place that comes to mind in Turkey. The Ayvalık Chamber of Commerce used to make a huge event as an umbrella organization embracing all the big and small producers; nowadays it is more modest and usually significant brands make their own promotional press trips and events. Naturally if it is a dim season, most brands do not even bother dealing with promotion, but concentrate on their production. 

Apparently, for bigger producers, it is better not to put all your eggs in the same basket. Diversity is the key to success, and Turkey has to focus more on regional varieties. Christopher Dologh, general manager of Kristal Oil, says that Turkey has to put more choices on the table to get competitive in world markets, and the best way to do this is to focus on indigenous varietals and their terroirs. A region-specific product of Kristal is “Special for the Connoisseur Selection Ayvalık Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” which is a natural extra-virgin olive oil that carries the geographic mark of Ayvalık. 

Last year the company made a significant step to launch a completely new olive oil made from the elusive Saurani olives on the Syrian border, in the province of Hatay. The variety only grows in the region lying along the Turkey-Syria borderline, and the olive oil made from this particular olive is much praised locally, but prior to this project it was not even heard of in other regions. In the recent five years, olive oil producers in Hatay upgraded their facilities with EU funds, installing state-of-the-art equipment to press good quality olive oil and also planted more groves with the aid of governmental funds. Unfortunately, most of these governmental funds were used for another variety, Gemlik from Marmara region, not adaptable for the climate of southeastern Turkey. This new project with the strategic alliance of two companies from far corners of Turkey hopes to reverse the situation in quest for making the region known for its own varietal and hopefully increase the number of Saurani growers each year. The oil of Saurani olives had a distinctive character that fits beautifully with robust tastes of the regional cuisine, filling a much-needed gap in the olive oil portfolio of Turkey. 

Turkish authorities try to increase the number of olive trees in Turkey, but unfortunately the support for plantations does not always go for the right tree variety for the right region. The general tendency is to plant Gemlik tree variety which supposedly reaches maturity earlier and gives higher yield. But naturally this tree does not perform well in all regions, after some time they adopt to local climatic conditions and behave adversely, for example in the southeast, they start to grow thicker skins which do not contribute to the delicacy and be prone to local diseases. After the last plantations, the number of olive trees in Ayvalık reached 2,350,000, 2 million of which consist of Ayvalık type olive trees. All the Ayvalık olive trees that are naturally distributed across the region are resistant to environmental conditions since they originated from a wild olive tree called “delice” centuries ago. Ayvalık olive oil stands out with its fruit aroma and density in terms of excellence. Its positive sensual and chemical characteristics enable the product to maintain its quality for a long time. Similarly, in the Mediterranean district of Tarsus, the birth place of St. Paul, it is “Sarı Ulak” olive, in the neighboring province of Antalya it is “Tavşan Yüreği,” the big plumb one, literally meaning “Rabbit Heart.” It is a simple but clear formula: If Ayvalık variety is strong in Ayvalık, Saurani is strong on the Syrian border, Sarı Ulak in Tarsus and so on… 

For the occasion of the olive harvest, Christopher Dologh said: “We are a family that has devoted their hearts and lives to olive trees for 80 years. Kristal Oil is a brand, and even more than that, which has pioneered and served to develop and spread the olive oil culture in Turkey for ages. We started a new initiative three years ago with the “Project on Development of Producers and Preservation of Regional Tastes” that aims to improve regional varietals; we contact directly with producers and rendering plants, which are the most important factors in achieving quality olive oil, and inform and train them on how they can make a better production. By this way, we have targeted to increase the quality of olive oil and provide income for the sector. Our aim is to raise the quality bar of Turkish olive oil. We are collecting the products of this journey we started with the mission of protecting local tastes and the species that are about to become extinct.” 

This project is one small step for the company, but it was one giant leap for Turkey, demonstrating the utmost importance to safeguard regional varieties. It might have been dim season for olives, but surely hopes prevail for future! 

Event of the Week: It is November and it is once again time for GastroMasa, the annual big international event of 16 starred world chefs visiting Turkey to be held on Nov. 17 at Wyndham Grand Hotel, Istanbul. Organized by Sözen Productions, the event brings together celebrated global chefs making presentations on a shared theme. This year the theme is “Creativity.”

Tickets are available on http://www.biletix.com/etkinlik/V2W01/ISTANBUL/en 

Fork of the Week: When in Ayvalık there are always culinary discoveries. This time it was a meyhane, the charming Tamam Meyhane, with its perfect mezes and cheerful atmosphere. Every bite was beyond expectations, the cinnamon-spiked braised beans, the best fava in town, the triangular “muska” böreks filled with leek and wild greens, the crunchy crispy courgette fries, the sublime liver slivers, and the surprising sweet, flaky katmer with semolina cream filling is definitely worth exploring. “Tamam” means complete in Turkish, which also has connotations of integral, downright, precise, done etc.; this time it means spot on and well done! Call for reservations 0546 545 10 10, or try your chances and drop by the place at Hayrettinpaşa Mh. Barbaros Cd. 9. Sk. No: 7, Ayvalık. 

Cork of the Week: When in Ayvalık, with the tumultuous choice of mezes and fishes, one reaches out for rakı, but this time our accompanying choice of drink was LA wines. With the fried liver LA Consensus 2014 was a perfect match, a coupage of Shiraz, Cabarnet Sauvignon, merlot, aged for 18 months in medium toasted barrels made of French, European and American oaks. Their semi-dry sweet wine La Passito was perfect with the perfect katmer of Tamam Meyhane.

Aylin Öney Tan,