From Laconia with love
Marianna Kolokotroni of Oliveology describes the food, people and extraordinary olive groves of her home region: Laconia, Greece.
I actually grew up in Athens, but spent my childhood summers in Laconia. I remember going for walks with my grandmother, picking herbs and helping her to cook, and wandering through the trees with my grandfather picking figs or collecting grapes from the vineyards to make grape juice. My family has been running our farm in Laconia for about five generations. It is now run by my uncle, who had it certified organic after he took over. It is there that we produce all of the olive related products sold at Oliveology.
We have a big range of organic cold pressed extra virgin olive oils, some early harvest, some later harvest, and we also do speciality oils, which are pressed with other ingredients we grow ourselves — for example, we might crush the olives with lemons, oranges or thyme. We also work with other small artisan farmers in the region, such as the local beekeepers. That's why I also sell honey.
Laconia is a regional unit in the south-east of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. The farm is about 15km outside Sparta, the regional capital, and sits in the middle of a valley bordered by the Taygetus mountains to the west and the Parnonas mountains to the east. The Evrotas River runs through the valley. The region is beautiful and unspoilt, with hot summers and fairly mild winters, and wherever you look there are olive trees. There are also oranges, lemons, apples, walnuts, chestnuts, figs, wild herbs and many vineyards.
The region is perfect for olives. The climate is just right, and so is the location of our farm—being near the mountains at an elevation of 350m is good for olive growing, with a soil that's both fertile and well drained, and it is far enough from the sea for the salty sea winds not to be a problem. The Peloponnese are renowned for their olive oil. We grow the koroneiki variety, considered the king of olives in Greece, and the most renowned variety used to make olive oil. The kalamata, a table olive, is also grown here.
The way we process the olives makes a difference to the final product. After being handpicked, the olives are pressed within two hours. Standard extra virgin olive oil is allowed to have the olives pressed within 24 or 48 hours, but the quicker you do that the better the quality of the product. Then we use extremely low temperatures to press the olives—much lower than standard extra virgin olive oil.
In Laconia we eat lots of meat, sausages, seafood and plenty of baked vegetables stuffed with rice, nuts or other things. We use a lot of yoghurt, honey and nuts—we bind nuts together with honey to make sweets, which are very popular and very healthy. It's a pretty simple diet, but a very healthy one. Greeks have a long life expectancy and low rates of heart disease and cancer, and that's partly because they consume so much extra virgin olive oil, maybe 20 to 25 litres per person per year. The Greeks may smoke and drink too much, but they eat well
The people of Laconia are very friendly and hospitable. They like to eat, drink and dance whenever the opportunity arises, whether it's a wedding, a big Easter celebration or a summer festival, with parties until the early morning.
Laconians are proud of their Spartan heritage. Sparta has such a rich history even though it is a very small city really — the population is just over 15,000. Around the world, everybody has heard about the warriors, the discipline and even the Spartan diet. In ancient times the Spartans always fought with Athens. They are still quite independent and feel different to the Athenians or people from other regions.
I love being in London, but I do miss the weather from back home. The sun and the clear skies, things we very rarely see here in the UK, are just part of everyday life in Greece. I also miss my mum's and my grandmother's cooking—when you make it yourself it's just not the same.