The potential of Greece’s most prized product and export: extra virgin olive oil and the actions required to establish the country in the mind of the traveler as an olive oil tasting destination featured during a tribute event held in Kalamata, late last month marking World Olive Oil Day (November 24).
Besides the speakers which included celebrity chef Ilias Mamalakis and Mediterranean Diet expert and nutritionist Elena Paravantes Hargitt, the open-to-all event conveyed the central role of olive oil in the local way of life through the song of performer Klaudia Delmer, the screening of “The Olive Oil of Messinia”, a documentary by 19-year-old Vassilis Marlantis, and a selection of famous cinematic portrayals of Greek olive oil.
The happening closed with a sampling of Messinian extra virgin olive oil innovatively incorporated into a wide array of food and sweet offerings prepared by the Kalamata Chef’s Club.
The event was organized Panagiotis Papanikolopoulos, who goes by the penname “Gastronaftis” and Konstantinos Tsoronis, a certified olive oil sommelier, with the support of the Kalamata Filmhouse, the Agricultural Cooperative of Kalamata, and Vassilis Papaefstathiou with the aim of raising awareness to the importance of olive oil tasting, which in itself can evolve into a promising tourist product.
Food the Ice-breaker
“Food is the common ground worldwide,” Papanikolopoulos told GTP Headlines, “You break the ice with food. But in order for people to understand what olive oil is all about, we need to train ‘olive oil sommeliers’ who will introduce visitors to the beautiful world of olive oil.”
A food lover and avid cook, co-founder with Tsoronis of Kalamata-based gastro-consultants Oliverse, Papanikolopoulos shared his vision of informed restaurants that will offer guests the chance to actually select the olive oil of preference as is the case with wine lists.
In order to get the message across and with a sense of humor, Papanikolopoulos presented extracts from famous international films, including The Godfather, Eat Pray Love, and The Irishman, among others – referring to none other than Greek olive oil.
Speaking about olive oil’s early penetration into US reality (and later, its market) and how it was back then misunderstood only to evolve into one of the most sought-after products, Paravantes Hargitt underlined the importance of clearing up misconceptions and educating both the Greeks, and in turn, the visitors to Greece.
Olive Oil – Greece’s Golden Opportunity
“While olive oil is gaining popularity internationally, there are still several misconceptions about it,” says Paravantes Hargitt, founder of OliveTomato.com.
“Tourism professionals and the travel industry, in general, have the opportunity – and the challenge – to educate visitors about olive oil and the traditional Mediterranean Diet by showing the typical use of olive oil in Greek cooking not only through organized cooking sessions but also through spontaneous and unplanned interactions in tavernas and restaurants, delis, farmers’ markets and other venues,” she explains.
Backing her up, Mamalakis, who has been a front-runner in the promotion of traditional Greek cuisine and products, tells GTP Headlines that there has been some progress but much more can be done.
“The situation today is better, but there’s still room for improvement,” says Mamalakis. “We can achieve a great deal if we join forces, which means supporting small and medium-sized Greek businesses and producers.”
Mamalakis has dubbed this the “Golden Handshake” initiative, which is all about Greek tourism businesses investing in Greek products.
“Tourists need guidance and that’s where hoteliers can play a pivotal role. All we need to do for starters is have leaflets in the rooms listing local products and where these can be tasted and purchased,” he said.
In this direction, Mamalakis tells GTP Headlines, Costa Navarino has paved the way, serving as a fine example of tourism going hand in hand with local production and creating hype around Greek food and products.
When asked about the Greek breakfast initiative, Mamalakis was quick to note that the focus should be on a continental breakfast using Greek products.
The 2nd International Yale Symposium on Olive Oil & Health followed the Kalamata olive oil tribute on December 1-4 at the European Cultural Center in Delphi.