I have a particular love of olive oil after years of living in the Levant and experiencing the joy of bread dipped into freshly cold pressed oil. It comes in many guises – from the rich viscous green variety through straw yellow and into the heavily refined odourless pale variety. It can be hot pressed, cold pressed, centrifuge extracted or indeed cold dripped. It is sold, amongst other things, as extra virgin, virgin, generally blended and pomace. What is definitely the case is that olive oil sold by large commercial companies will seek to maintain the same taste, colour, scent and flavour profile. Homogeneity is believed to be the key to market dominance.
However, to seek sameness requires the elimination of variation that comes with seasonal difference. An olive tree that has experienced drought will produce an olive that tastes markedly different to one which has been well irrigated. Equally soil differences, levels of sunshine; in other words differences in terroir and climate will produce a subtly different product. Even the mood of the olive presser will impact on the oil as it will affect how he operates the press. This is to be celebrated not eliminated.
Small producers in contrast, across the Mediteranean, harvest in small family groups. On a warm dry day, a sheet or tarpaulin is placed around the base of the tree and the fittest hit and shake the branches causing the ripe olives to tumble like hailstones to the ground. Each tree is treated in the same way and the resulting crop is bundled up and taken to the press. Most communities share facilities, taking their olives to be pressed and collecting the oil later in the day. It is a method unchanged for generations.
We use a lot of olive oil – in our creams and soaps – there is nothing to beat its benefits for the skin and hair. It may not be quite as glamorous as more exotic oils but a really, really good quality olive oil full of polyphenols is quite simply fantastic. For us, it was critically important to find a producer who shares our values and appreciation of seasonal variation, who strives to deliver the freshest crop and understands and appreciates the trees themselves. When we found Cate and Vasilis of Mesto Olive Oil who farm olive trees in Crete we knew we had found the right people.
Cate explains, ”For Vasilis, it’s literally in his blood, a deep connection to the family land. Mesto was borne of a total commitment to maintaining a way of life that is the backbone of the Mediterranean at a time when small scale, no spray, instinctive farming, harnessing techniques passed down through the generations is under threat from high density, yield driven commodification. We farm lightly and sustainably, working with the land to provide good, clean food. As farmers and food producers we are proud of what we do and to be continuing age-old traditions in the cultivation of our trees and oil. Terroir - natures fingerprint - is important. We also do it because when we are in the UK we want, and we want other people, to be able to eat good, fresh, tasty olive oil.”
She continues, “We don’t source our olive oil, we make it. From the planting of new trees, through cultivation, pruning, harvesting & overseeing the “crush”. We have personally nurtured every olive that is in our oil. Unlike wine, the fresher the olive oil the better. Mesto is always from the latest harvest, which is stamped on our tin. As well as being delicious, it of verifiably high quality, which means that all of the health benefits of olive oil associated with the Mediterranean diet are intact.”
It is genuinely our pleasure to work with Cate and Vasilis, they share our love of plants and the landscape they inhabit. For us the link between food and skin is irrevocable – we believe that our products should be good enough to eat and every ingredient should be carefully selected for quality, freshness and therapeutic value. If we can’t make it ourselves, we choose to work with friends who can, and who share our passion.