I've been doing some research recently on the olive oil industry for a presentation and encountered a few really interesting and informative studies and articles. As expected, there are numerous health-related articles (olive oil kills cancer cells!) and several regarding fraud and mislabeling. I also came across a few regarding the state of the overall industry with detailed analysis.
An August, 2013 report by the US International Trade Commission studied a variety of factors in the olive oil industry as it relates to competition for US producers. In the report, there is a profile of the major producing countries, including Greece. The report notes the following about Greek production:
Greece produces high-quality oil, though most of its exports are destined to Italy for blending and bottling.
Greece plays an important role in global olive oil production, but little of its oil enters world markets as a bottled Greek product. Most Greek olive oil is consumed domestically (mostly sold directly by the mill to the final consumer), as Greece has the highest per capita olive oil consumption in the world. Of the remainder, most is exported to major bottlers in Italy for blending with other extra virgin olive oils from various sources. Greek extra virgin oil is recognized by blenders and bottlers as a component that raises the overall quality and flavor profile of a blend. Recent industry and government initiatives seek to increase Greek oil’s competitiveness by reducing the sector’s dependence on bulk exports to Italy and focusing more on selling differentiated Greek product.
So while Greek individual brands have been declining on store shelves, Greek oil has been making it into blended oils because of its superior flavor profile. The thought process being that if you take 90% low-quality oil and blend in 10% high-quality and flavorful oil, the result is decent oil, which is passable at cheap prices. Low prices, low expectations, low quality. You get what you pay for.
With Spartan Oil, we are trying hard to break that cycle. Our belief is that consumers should have access to premium extra virgin olive oil directly without intermediaries. A high-quality extra virgin olive oil is a far greater value, too. As the quality of the oil decreases, so too do the health benefits. We manage as much of the process as possible--production, packing, shipping, bottling, and sales--to ensure the integrity of the product. This results in additional time and cost, but the quality is certain.
After many, many years as a Windows user, I picked up a Macbook about 18 months ago. And after using it almost exclusively for the past 8 months or so, something occurred to me.
A few years ago, I was chatting with a couple friends about the “Home Depot Effect”. You know, that false sense of capability that enraptures you from the moment your eyes spot the pearly orange gates. It starts slowly. First, a door knob. Then a lighting fixture. Perhaps a faucet or two. Before you know it, you’re buying lumber and a circular saw and building a deck. Humility then sets in quickly as you call a professional to clean up the mess.
Well, a Mac is basically the same thing for creative outlets. Seems harmless enough to organize and clean up a few pictures in iPhoto. But, there’s more. And, you are reminded at every opportunity that everyone else in the world is using their Mac to enrich humanity, while you are watching cat videos. And those iPad commercials. Of course some guy dropped his iPad straight into a volcano to capture sensitive data that lead to thousands of lives saved. So, you feel compelled to make a little moving picture (iMovie) or perhaps a little beat (GarageBand).
And just like I have no business building a deck or repairing the kitchen sink, the same applies to making a movie. But, of course, I did them anyway. Much to the detriment of humanity. These things should be left to the pros.
According to the locals, this has been an unusually cold and snowy winter. While snow is common at higher elevations, it's quite rare to witness snow-covered olive trees, which grow at lower elevations. Thankfully, the worst of the cold and snow came in February, after the bulk of the olives had already been harvested.
We took advantage of the unusual weather to take some photos and videos around Sparta. Below are a few and the rest are on our Flickr page.
Each time I visit the village, I relish the opportunity to flip through my grandmother's old photos. I happened upon quite a few gems, including photos of my late grandfather and the beloved mustard-yellow pickup truck.
The pickup in action!
Pappou and me about 35 years ago.
A few other select photos
Snow on olive trees is a once-a-decade occurrence.
Beach day. Thankfully, stoneware bottles don't mind cold temps.
Spartan-style fertilizer and weed-control. And, lawn-mowers. Multipurpose sheep.
The ancient Spartan acropolis and the modern city in the background. Note the olive trees in between.
A few people have asked about the proper way to care for their Spartan Oil stoneware bottle. Fortunately, cleaning and caring for it are pretty simple.
The bottle should be cleaned before it is refilled. To clean it, simply rinse the bottle with hot water and hand wash it with a bottle brush and dish soap. Do not use anything hard inside the bottle, which could mar the glaze on the interior. Be sure to allow the bottle to completely dry before adding in any olive oil.
Stoneware bottles are naturally durable and require little care. However, there are some key precautions that can extend the life of the bottle. Hand-washing the bottle is important. In addition, avoid situations which could cause the bottle interior or exterior to chip or crack. Small chips on the exterior are usually harmless, but if you find a small crack, pour the oil into another container and get a new stoneware bottle. Small cracks will turn into large cracks and large cracks turn into pools of oil on your counter.
This covers the basics, but if you have any specific questions, feel free to contact us. We'd be happy to help.
We are proud to announce that Spartan Oil is now available through Amazon.com! Stoneware bottles are available for immediate purchase and the refill pouches will be available shortly! Find it at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00S1P217G
This isn't like selling your old used textbooks--Amazon has some pretty stringent requirements in order to sell food products. Here's what we had to prove in order to be accepted:
1) Legible images of your brand label on the products you are intending to sell.
2) Your company's website, with information about your brand.
3) Product testing documentation for the products you manufacture and intend to sell (e.g., a report from an independent laboratory stating the ingredients in the product, or stating the safety of the product), or your registration with the US Food and Drug Administration.
4) Your business certification showing that you registered your business (e.g., your business registration or sales/use tax license).
If you have a moment, it would really help to get a few reviews on our Amazon listing. There are many of you that have tried and purchased Spartan Oil and even 10-15 reviews would be very helpful.
Good news for our friends with severe allergies in their households! About two weeks ago, we received approval from the Commonwealth of Virginia to process olive oil in our own facility (we were using a commercial kitchen before). This is huge because it allows us to fully control the bottling process. This means that we can now offer our olive oil with the statement that Spartan Oil is bottled using allergen-free equipment.
Spartan Oil is 100% extra virgin olive oil and produced on allergen-free equipment.
Based on feedback that we've received from some customers, there are very few, if any, extra virgin olive oils that can make this statement. Those of you with kids and family members with severe allergies can appreciate how helpful this might be since olive oil can completely replace butter, peanut oil, soybean oil, and other allergenic ingredients.
To be clear, our olive oil is pressed using equipment that only presses olives. There is a minor possibility that there could be some cross-contact in the fields since our trees could be near some nut trees, but that possibility is infinitely small. During the bottling process, we use equipment that is only used to bottle olive oil and has never been used for any other purpose.
Please share this with your friends and family that might have an interest. We know there are many families struggling to find meal options in households with severe allergies and, hopefully, Spartan Oil will help to improve those options and make their meals more tasty!
One of the most common questions we receive when talking with customers is whether we offer infused olive oil. After all, olive oil is great with a variety of flavors, including many herbs, spices, and fruits.
We've chosen not to offer infused oil, primarily because we prefer to infuse our oil fresh each time. This has many advantages, including:
Here are a few tips to help with creating your infusions:
Heat up your ingredients before combining them. Adding an orange peel to your olive oil? Just toast it for a couple minutes in a pan. Heat up the olive oil, as well, but only a little. Just enough for it to feel warm on your hand.
Start with small quantities. No need to use your whole bottle of olive oil on a single infusion. Start with half a cup and experiment from there.
Use an infusing bottle. There are many on the market--just be sure to get one that allows you to separate the oil from the infusion ingredients. You can also use a jar and some cheesecloth to achieve the same results.
Here are some photos from a recent Vanilla infusion we tried. It was excellent with Sweet Potatoes!