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Olive Oil Production in Greece

Photographer: Orestis Panagiotou


Greece may be involved in the crisis but there is one area of its economy that is far from ailing – olive oil. So prolific is the production that even Italy, another major olive oil producing nation, absorbs about 75 percent of the exported oil. That is three quarters of the 300,000 tons of high quality olive oil from the 132 million trees harvested. It comes as no surprise that three out of four trees cultivated in Greece are olive trees.


Oil is produced by pressing olives, collected before or during maturity. There are modern oil press units operating as independent industries as well as small ones attached to farms where the processing of olives is done in the traditional way: weighing, washing, first pressing and second pressing. The leftover olive pulp is then transferred to another oil press machine where the second quality oil is produced. From these remains come a third press, creating special treatment pomace oils used to manufacture soap and fertilizer.


Virgin olive oil, according to the quality classification, is the oil obtained solely by mechanical or other treatments that do not cause deterioration of the oil. It can be ‘Extra Virgin’ olive oil, ‘Virgin’ olive oil and ‘Lampante’ olive oil, depending on the acidity. In Greece, 82 percent of the oil produced belongs to the ‘Extra Virgin’ category.


Olive oil production in Greece comes mainly from small producers, who pick the olives by hand or use a beating rod to collect them in nets. In many areas, the oil harvest is carried out before the final ripening of the fruit, which contributes to the production of high quality olive oil, but yields reduced quantities, as the fruit, having not yet fully matured, is not as juicy.


A key element of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is not only used for food, but also for lighting lamps, preparing aromatic oils, as a preservative, and for cleansing, body care and tanning products.


Approximately half of the annual Greek production of olive oil is exported to European Union countries. According to international organizations’ estimates, the global oil production is expected to fall 19 percent in 2015 due to reduced production in Spain. Because of this, global oil prices may rise and Greek producers can expect a profitable year.