In America, we’re most familiar with the extra virgin olive oil brands that line our supermarket shelves. Unfortunately, this means we’re only exposed to and educated by those brands that have big budgets and enough marketing power to compete in the enormous retail distribution industry of America.
Currently, we see Italian, Greek, Spanish and even Tunisian extra virgin olive oils in our stores every day. If you shop at specialty or gourmet stores you may see a few more countries represented, but not many.
Today, I want to shine a light on Turkey - a country virtually unrecognized as olive growers and olive oil producers. But in reality, Turkey is the 4th largest producer of olives in the world* - fourth to Spain, Italy and Greece, respectively.
Turkey is also the 2nd largest olive oil producer in the world, second to Tunisia**.
Turkey’s relationship with olives goes far beyond product production and distribution. There’s a history so rich, dating back 3,000 BC, that olives have always been a staple in Turkish culture and Turkish cuisine.
Urla, Turkey – the original pioneer of olive oil production
Urla, Turkey has a special historical connection to olives and olive oil production. Urla is where the ruins of the ancient Ionian city, Klazomenai - the olive oil city of the 6th century was recently discovered.
An olive oil extraction installation from the 6th century and olive storage were found in Urla, along with the oldest attested olive oil production facilities. Here, there is evidence of the first olive oil exports, trading and olive storage from 3000-2000 BC!!
A small town on a small peninsula in the Izmir Province, Urla is has a history of olive oil production that is as old as civilization itself.
Olive oil is a household product and a staple-piece of Aegean & Mediterranean cultures. Anyone who has tasted an olive prematurely knows the bitterness of the fruit. So how did people think to make such a rich, flavorful product from something unsavory?
Historical periodicals say the answer is in the local olives from the Urla Peninsula:The fruit of the Erkence olive or the hurma olive, as it is widely known.
The olives from the Erkence olive tree ripen while they are still on the branches. Off shore winds carry a fungus vital to the life and the ripening process of the olive fruit. This causes the olive to change color from black to yellowish-brown. With the change in color, the fruit wrinkles to resemble a dark date. This processes is so naturally perfect that a person can pluck the fruit and eat it right off the branches.
Only from the Urla peninsula with sea winds from both sides, can a person witness this mystical transfiguration, and our ancestors had the mind to experiment with it. Those pioneers of Aegean culture picked this transforming fruit, tasted it, and later processed it into oil.
This is why Duygu Elakdar, the founder of Hiç, and her husband were drawn to this area chose to acquire and nurture what is now the Hiç Olive Forest - the largest organic and edible forest on the Aegean coast.
Resources and museums dedicated to the history of olive oil in Urla including the Klazomenai Ancient City and Olive Museum in Urla (Kostem Zeytinyagi Muzesi)
For more information on the history of Turkey and olives, check out - Olive to Live