Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At The Olive Mill

Theodora and her crew filled fifteen boxes. Each box holds a little over ten kilos, so I knew that we had around 150 kilos and decided to press them at Anogira. I called the mill and confirmed that I could be the first through the press on Saturday morning. “Be there at nine, sharp!” Andreas said. Although each farmer’s fruit is theoretically kept separate, because ours is certified organic I like to be the first through the press. Being first means that you know, beyond any doubt, that your oil will come from your olives – and although it wouldn’t affect our certification, I like to be able to tell my customers that their oil is 100% certified organic olive oil.

So, leaving Best Beloved to take Leo and Sophia to Drama, I drove up to Anogira with Zenon.

We arrived bang on nine and I backed the Land Rover up to the hopper and Zeen and I started emptying the boxes. We had 168.9 kilos.

Olive pressing takes more than 2 hours. First the leaves are separated out and the olives are washed, then the fruit is crushed by the three giant wheels. After crushing the olives are kneaded in the machine, and the oil is extracted, finally trickling down into our containers.

We hadn’t had breakfast, so Zeen and I decided on a little snack to help the time pass. We chose toasts drizzled with oil and sprinkled with rigani. Mine came with tomato and feta and his was plain. And Zenon was hooked. A normally picky eater, he took one bite and his eyes lit up. “Can I have this at home every day?”

After our snack, we took a walk around the park that forms the museum part of the mill. I would recommend a visit here to anyone who is interested in learning about Cyprus or oil production. Andreas and Lina have created a beautifully landscaped park with attractive and interesting exhibits about the history and cultivation of olives. They have a model ‘old time’ press showing how donkeys were used to turn the screw; they have a collection of tools, utensils, mats, and pots. They have clear multi-lingual explanations.

But I think they’ve gone a little over the top. Where they’ve stuck to olives, everything’s great. Why add the sheep? I guess that you can say that sheep are a part of traditional Cypriot culture. A pony? The poor thing, a skewbald Shetland-cross, was disconsolately cropping coarse straw in his pen, waiting to be saddled and led around under tots all day (2 Euros a pop). I was hot, in shorts and a tank top. God knows how he felt in his woolly coat. Shetlands are bred for the inhospitable rocks of northern Scotland, not the sun-scorched Cypriot lowlands.

But saddest was the deer, in its faux-concrete pen. Young enough to still have spots, she pressed herself, flanks heaving, against the wire as far from us as she could possibly get, and stared with wide, dark brown eyes. When we moved, so did she, gauging her moment and leaping up the concrete rocks on fine-drawn legs to press herself against the other end of the pen. Her eyes never left us. There was nowhere she could hide. We put a Euro in a slot and watched a fan blow detergent foam ‘snow’ across the pen for a minute or so. Deer were here from pre-historic times until the mid-16th Century, but are no longer part of the native fauna. Maybe bringing one and creating an exhibit called ‘Snowfall in Troodos’ at an olive park was simply an exercise in wishful thinking.

By the time we had arrived back at the mill, other farmers had arrived and started their pressing. We sat around, chatted a bit, read some stories, then watched as our oil, bright green, started flowing out of the tap. We had about 27 litres – less than I expected. Less than I had hoped. But acidity at 0.4% puts it well into the Extra Virgin category, and the taste is fresh and peppery.

“Don’t sell it this year, Manamou,” Best Beloved said when I finally got home. “It has cost us 7 Euros a litre to produce this year, and you’ll not make anything on it. Keep it for us.”

Besides, if Zenon stays true to his wish and eats olive oil toast every day (and he has so far), we’ll need every last drop.

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