Sparta, Greece

This is Sparta: Introducing our EVOO from Greece

It’s a whole new place, but still in one of our favourite regions. The Peloponnese is a magical peninsula, encapsulating both ancient Greece and the modern era—which feels fitting for this oil. Old traditions and family legacies have mixed with high-tech precision to deliver thoughtful quality, all centred around a community making its comeback. 

I lost a lot of sleep about the state of Greek oil this year.

If you read the article we wrote about the spike in olive oil prices, you're aware that what happened with the Greek harvest this year was devastating. A loss more significant than many can even remember.

It also meant that our beloved farmers there were down, with our main partner, Marianna, being down 90%.

As the realisation washed over us in the autumn, I started scouring Greece for new partners. 

It wasn’t just about finding any oil. We couldn’t just go to any mill.

Our standards demand a high quality, but all of our oils must also meet an even higher standard for social and environmental impact. This means organically-farmed as a baseline, a path to regenerative in progress, total traceability to small-scale farmers, and at least 50% women in leadership or ownership.

Unfortunately, due to the havoc caused by a plethora of climate issues, many of the oils coming out of Greece this year were just not great.

I mean really not great. 

We were having some samples sent to a Alexis Kerner, a world-renowned EVOO judge in Spain, and we were shocked that many didn’t even qualify as “virgin”, much less “extra”. They were just full of defects, seemingly due to later harvests, olive fly, and just poor processing that comes from low yields.

But at long last, one oil came across my desk that fit the bill.

In fact, it was so good that as soon as I tried it—I booked my trip to Greece to meet the people behind it.

And here’s what I discovered…

EVOO producers, Sparta, Greece

Meet the families.

It’s the American dream, but built by a big, fat, Greek family. 

Ekaterina’s (Kat) parents immigrated to the US without knowing a word of English and with only a desire to provide a better future for their family. And it worked. 

Her father started as a dishwasher, became a carpenter, and finally a property developer. And when the Greek economy collapsed with the 2008 crisis, the family made a plan to build an olive mill and support the local community back home in the Peloponnese.

Over the years, Kat—though born in the US and not Greece—felt a strong pull to her parents’ homeland.

“I remember summers spent among the olive trees and exploring the vineyards when we were young. We always had a connection with our motherland.”

And eventually, she married a Greek from the same region and decided to return.

Today, both Kat and her husband, Yiannis, are investing in Sparta with development—from tourism projects to gourmet food, including this high-tech olive mill they’ve built around their own groves.

But it’s not just the advanced tech of the mill or the solar panels powering it that got us excited.

Kat is steadfast in her commitment to her local farmers. 

“This is about community improvement and sustainability. We have to serve as a model for this, to show the viability for this industry going forward.”

There’s worry in her words as we chat together. “Our harvests for the past 10 years have been telling us about climate change!” But this year it shook the very faith of even the most resilient farmers.

Kat sees her business as “the hub to bring the right recipe together to make sure there is a future for this industry and region. No one else is doing it for us.”

That recipes includes:

  • Fair and transparent pricing; better pay plus pay that incentives small-scale farmers to a higher quality production—not just quantity.
  • Ongoing education and support around everything from organic farming and soil preservation to understanding how to make higher-quality oils and tasting profiles.
  • Testing the best practices on their own land and at their own expense for long-term viability of the sector.

“This is an experiment. We need this to work. Or we face total olive grove abandonment,” Kat explains.

Grove abandonment is a huge problem across the Mediterranean, with near-empty villages and “1 Euro houses” from land-owning communities that can’t make ends meet.

"Tradition and innovation must partner for long-term success."—Kat Valioti

Through Kat, we met Dimitris and the Christofilakos family.

He was one of their first hires when they set up the mill.

Olive groves sparta

The Christaflakos family are fourth-generation olive and citrus farmers (moving into the fifth generation with their daughter and son stepping in now).

Kat told me about how, when they asked around the town, everyone spoke so highly of Dimitris. From working at the church to being a respected farmer amongst the locals, he became an integral part of leading the new community project.

On the Christofilakos groves, they incorporating things like chicken and lamb manure to enrich the soil and provide organic fertilisers. They’re also pruning at specific times to best suit their older trees in order to expand the nutrients in the fruit and prevent a waste of water.

As Kat told us: "You shall give to create, in order to receive and take. The community, the planet, the land, the tree, it is an inherent law of nature."

Olive Oil Miller Sparta Greece

The miller makes the difference.

The final part of the magic sauce that made this oil so special came in the form of a talented miller named Veloudo. 

We often say that the best olive farming in the world doesn’t mean anything if the milling isn’t done properly.

And with all the investment into the best machinery, Kat also brought in Veloudo, an inspiring woman in her own right (for many reasons)—but she also trained at one of the best schools in Spain for EVOO milling and tasting. She's currently a Certified Olive Oil tester for the National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Association of Greece.

Veloudo is managing time, temperature, and every aspect of the milling to ensure she gets the flavour and nutrition from the fruit.

As Yianni’s told me as I walked through the mill with Veloudo: “Everything we do puts quality first because of her."

Though they rely on the best of modern technology, Kat tell us that "the machinery has advanced, but the human aspect is even stronger than in the past, as we now do not take the harvest and the fruit of the land for granted. The community works together to maintain and preserve the cultivation of the olive tree for the future generations."

Sparta Town

Discovering Sparta.

Olives and oranges. This is what I was told to expect as I drove deep down into the Peloponnese peninsula from Athens.

With its rolling hills of small, patchwork-like plots and sparkling sea views—it feels like I’m back in Crete, an area we go to regularly.

But then the mountains unfold.

The Taygetus range, which is one of the oldest-named mountain regions in Europe and was written about as far back as the Odyssey, runs through this part of the peninsula and frames every shot.

What it means is that as I stood there in March looking at new olive buds coming in, with a wildflower carpet lining the groves, I also saw snow-capped mountains standing with pride in sunny Greece.

And here, on the ancient lands of Sparta, is the modern town of Sparti.

Lacking in its ruins but lasting in its legacy, this part of Greece doesn’t get the tourists like you see in the islands.

Not for lack of gorgeous food or beautiful landscapes, but a lack of development. 

However, it’s all starting to change as people uncover what those ancient Greeks knew long ago…

This place is special.

This is Sparta.

As Kat tells me when I ask her "why olives?" for her family: "Thankfully, the choice had been made millennia ago—we are just the lucky recipients. The olive tree dates back to Ancient Greece, and the Taygetus mountain’s surrounding slopes, hills, and plains have successfully grown the olive trees from the times of the Gods of Olympus."

How to use this olive oil.

As always, the best way to understand an oil is to get to know it. Put it in a little cup, swirl it around, and have a smell and a sip. (See more on how you should properly taste EVOOs.)

Let the aromas you smell guide you as to what to make with this oil.

This oil sits in our “everyday” range of extra virgins—waiting to be poured over a range of dishes. 

Sparta Peloponnese Olives

What the oil tastes like...

Fresh and buttery, with an initial aroma of fresh-cut green grass, followed by the fragrance of artichokes and tomato. 

On the palate, it has a smooth and delicate creamy feel, with distinct herby notes like oregano and dried basil coming through. 

The finish is pleasant with a tingling cracked pepper spice. 

What to pair this EVOO with...

In the summertime, this is to pour over tomatoes for a salad swimming in gold!

It’s also the sort of oil that works beautifully over grilled meat and veg.

And, as it’s on the more delicate end, it’s a delight drizzled over Madagascar vanilla ice cream

From the farmers: Their favourite way to use this EVOO is fresh-cut chunky potato fries fried in EVOO, drizzled with more, topped with crumbled feta and freshly-ground oregano (which the family picks wild on their sloped olive groves at the base of the Taygetus mountain).

👀 Also, in a fresh EVOO-fried egg. "Add on top for a morning power breakfast before heading out to the farm", explains Dimitris.

Happy pouring...

 

— Sarah Vachon, founder & olive oil sommelier.

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