What is it that makes Spartan Oil so unique and so good?
The answer to this question is found in the region where the trees grow, the trees and the farmers that care for them, the olives, the harvesting and pressing process, and our packaging.
Situated in the heart of Greece’s olive oil growing region, Sparta is the capital of Lakonia. With a rich history going back nearly 3,000 years, modern-day Spartans consider olive oil among their most important contributions.
Lakonia is one of 5 regional units in the state of Peloponnese. Over 65% of Greece’s olive oil production comes from the Peloponnese. Greece, as a whole, is the third-largest producer of olive oil in the world, behind Spain and Italy. Greeks are very serious about the quality of their olive oil, and despite having one-quarter of the production of Spain and half the production of Italy, Greece is the largest producer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The oil produced in the Lakonia region—and in particular, near Sparta—is widely-regarded as among the best in the world. The oil is low in acidity, but very high in nutrients and healthy components, including polyphenols and high-density lipoproteins—good fats.
Read this recent study about the quality of our olive oil that was presented at a Harvard University conference.
Olive trees are known for the their longevity and uniqueness—each tree has its own shapes, twists, and character. Many olive trees in the Sparta region are over 500 years old, with several over 1,000 years old. It's amazing to consider what the trees have witnessed. They’ve seen and survived war, famine, earthquakes, fires and just about any other human or natural disaster.
The predominant olive variety in the region is the Koroneiki olive, which has become prevalent over the past 50-75 years. There are secondary varieties of olives (we refer to them as heritage varieties), which we also use in our blends to add complexity and character to our oil. Kalamon (Kalamata) olives are also commonly found in the area, but are used exclusively as table olives and are not pressed for olive oil.
Olive trees are quite hardy and can survive for centuries and will produce fruit annually as long as weather conditions do not reach freezing levels in the spring months when the first buds are developing.
Farmers regularly tend to the olive trees, including careful pruning and nourishment. Even as new technologies emerge, many of the same techniques used hundreds of years ago are still in place today.
The olives start as small buds in the early spring. Within several months, they start to take their familiar egg-like shape. By the time they ripen and are ready to be picked in the late fall, many varieties are approximately the size of a small almond. They can vary in size considerably, with some olives growing as large as an egg. Some varieties are black when ripe, while most are green. Harvesting olives at different stages of ripeness can yield varying flavor profiles and nutritional components, so care is taken to determine the right time to harvest.
Olives are firm to the touch when ripe, yielding slightly to pressure. Depending on the variety, a mature tree produces 200-300 lbs of olives annually. A rough ratio of the oil produced is approximately 6:1--1 lb of olive oil produced for every 6 lbs of olives pressed. On some of our specialized oil blends, the yield can vary significantly, often reaching 8:1 or in the case of our Batch π blend, 14:1.
Our olives are harvested from November to February with certain varietals ripening sooner than others. The weather during the months leading up to the harvest season determines exactly when the olives are ready.
The olives are harvested using several different types of automated machinery, but most of the labor is done manually. First, several tarps are layered around each individual olive tree. Next, a machine shakes the tree branches, causing the olives to fall to the tarps. The olives that fall onto these tarps are collected and any olives that fall to the ground are discarded, including those that fell naturally prior to harvest. This is very important to the production of high-quality, low-acidity, nutrient-rich olive oil. Olives that have fallen to the ground have higher acidity levels and yield low-quality olive oil.
The olives from the tarps are placed into large plastic bins that can hold approximately 2,000 lbs of olives. The olives are immediately taken by the farmer to an olive oil production facility, where the olives are pressed within 24 hours, and in many cases, within 4 hours.
The olives are weighed, cleaned, weighed again, cleaned again, crushed, and then moved to an extractor. Extraction is done by way of a centrifugal force, using a high-speed machine that separates the oil from other juices. The oil is captured in a repository, where it is weighed once again, and then transferred to a stainless steel storage container. Individual farmers are often compensated based on the amount of oil that their olives produce, so weight is very important to everyone in the olive oil production process.
The entire process is done with painstaking attention to detail, at all times keeping the quality and freshness of the oil as the primary goal.
The oil is maintained in storage containers until it is transferred to individual bottles.
Spartan Oil is not filtered at the production facility, nor is it filtered during the bottling process. We have chosen to avoid filtering the olive oil to keep intact the full flavor and nutritional benefits. This is done at the minor cost of aesthetics. On some occasions, you may notice that our oil appears cloudy or that a layer of sediment has settled to the bottom of the bottle. This sediment may come out while trying to get the last drops of oil out of your bottle. This sediment is perfectly natural and is not an indicator that the oil has gone bad. It is perfectly safe for consumption.
Families in the Sparta region have enjoyed their oil unfiltered for centuries.
To maximize the freshness and shelf-life of the olive oil, we have searched the world over for the optimum bottle. Spartan Oil bottles are all-natural stoneware bottles that mimic the storage containers that ancient spartans used to store their oil. Aside from their pleasing rustic appearance, stoneware bottles have several specific benefits, including:
The finest oil deserves the finest in packaging materials.