There would be no Greek cuisine without Greek olive oil. The country is the world’s third largest producer of olive oil, but first in the production of extra-virgin oils and first in consumption, at more than 20 liters per person per year. The main Greek oil olive is the tiny “Coroneiki”. The most acclaimed Greek olive oils are produced in the Peloponnese, Crete, and Lesvos. There are 15 Greek olive oils that have a Protected Designation of Origin, and another 11 that have PGI status (Protected Geographic Indication), attesting the product’s excellence. Olive trees grow in almost every single part of Greece. In the Greek kitchen olive oil is the basic cooking fat but it is also the basic sauce and garnish, drizzled raw over countless dishes, from fish to beans, and even used in baking. So endemic is olive oil to the Greek kitchen that there is a whole category of olive oil-based preparations, called “Ladera” after the Greek word for olive oil, “Ladi”. The last few years have seen a move toward estate bottlings and a push among high-end producers for oils that fall into a newly minted category, super premium.
The world’s most famous olive is, of course, Greek: the almond-shaped, brownish-black, tight-skinned Kalamata. There are dozens of table olive varieties in Greece, most with regional provenance. All olives start out green and turn black or dark brown as they ripen. Certain Greek olives are harvested green, others, such as the Kalamata, are left to mature a bit longer and harvested as they turn color, and still others are left to mature fully on the tree, turning leathery and wrinkled in the process. Green Greek olives are often stuffed or seasoned with wild fennel, or lemon and garlic or hot pepper flakes. Kalamata and other dark olives are stored in either vinegar or olive oil. Wrinkled black or plump brown olives, which come mainly from Thassos and Halkidiki respectively, are salt cured. Greek olives make an excellent snack and addition to many foods, from salads to sauces. In recent years, some Greek food producers have experimented with sweetened olives, in the form of jams and preserves.