Following in the footsteps of their fore-mothers while learning about the latest innovations and aiming for the highest quality, a new generation of well educated, enthusiastic Greek women is sharing their family’s high quality extra virgin olive oil with the world.
The efforts of Greek women of all ages are inspiring others in the olive oil sector.
Cristina Stribacu started her education with a focus on the Italian language and art history. However, she later turned to a study of olive oil tasting and blending and took her knowledge back to her family olive groves in Messinia, Peloponnese. With the support of Orange Grove, an initiative of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Greece, Stribacu founded an olive oil company that gained international attention on three continents and won an impressive list of awards. For example, Stribacu’s LIÁ Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil was judged the best monovarietal olive oil in the world at two major international olive oil competitions in 2018.
Another young olive oil producer, Panos Kloutsiniotis of Ladolea, points out that Stribacu is an international competition judge who also “promotes like crazy high quality Greek EVOOs, apart from her own brand.” He appreciates the way she supports “Greek indigenous varieties (including our Megaritiki).” Feeling a deep connection to nature, Stribacu believes it is important to maintain biodiversity and practice sustainable agriculture.
To share her knowledge about the culture of the olive and the health benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean diet, Stribacu leads tasting events and seminars for everyone from Greek olive oil producers, business people, and schoolchildren to foreign tourists. Among other things, she was a TEDx speaker in Monemvasia and a presenter at The Economist’s Third Agricultural Business Summit in Thessaloniki in March 2017.
Giovanni Bianchi of Argali expects another linguist who now leads olive oil seminars, Irini Kokolaki, to become “one of the most influential characters in the Greek olive landscape,” thanks to “her great determination and her results.” After she studied French philology and language education and spent several years teaching, Kokolaki’s family olive groves drew her to olive oil and to various seminars focused on it.
Already speaking four languages, Kokolaki learned Spanish in order to take an intensive three-month course for certification as an Expert Virgin Olive Oil Taster at the University of Jaen in Spain. This is the world’s only International Olive Council approved expert level university course focused on sensory analysis.
Bianchi explains that Kokolaki has tried, in spite of great challenges, “to put into practice, both in the field and in the oil mill, what she had learned.” She works on her family’s O Olive extra virgin olive oil, as well as sharing her knowledge through seminars and as an adviser to producers and mills. Bianchi believes “she has many great projects in mind, and she is constantly engaged in promoting and transmitting the concept of oil quality.” She acts as a panel leader for the Armonia International Olive Oil Competition in Italy, represents Greece at the Spanish organisation Tierra de Olivos, and participates in the Italian women’s olive oil friends organization Pandolea, helping to unite the major olive oil producing nations.
This educated younger generation is building on the foundation created by those who have been cultivating olives throughout Greek history; they are updating techniques after learning from both the latest scientific discoveries and the extensive experience of their forebears. Tasos Anestis of Rhizoma Olive Farms told Greek Liquid Gold that his mother, Soula Anestis, is one of the noteworthy women in the Greek olive oil world. Although she is now deaf, at age 72 she still helps with the family business.
Soula Anestis has been harvesting olives for 60 years—“a long story,” she said, “more like a journey into the rough seas.” She helped her father in their olive groves until she was 15, headed to Athens for high school, then returned to her village, Kranidi. She feels “happy and privileged now to have cared for our ancestral land and to be able to make a living out of it. We work hard as a family, and we try to give back to the community. Our main aim is to stick to my father’s modus vivendi: ‘if you do something you love, you love the process, and you make the most of the gift of life.’”
Her son Tasos adds, “She is the eternal inspiration for all of us.” Even after International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, let us keep remembering and honouring the women, young, old, and middle aged, who inspire us, give us life, and help care for the life-giving olive tree and its precious, healthy oil.
* For more articles on olive oil, visit greekliquidgold.com
- Thanks to Cristina Stribacu and Irini Kokolaki for the photos (with Stribacu at the top of the page and Kokolaki in the other photo).