Nothing represents Messinia quite like olive oil. You see it, feel it and taste it everywhere around you: In the acres of silver/green-leafed trees, perfectly lined up for easy harvesting; in the olive presses dotted around the countryside; and in the local food that melts in your mouth. So to explore this region of the Peloponnese through the prism of its most famous product is to travel to its very heart.
As you are guided around a Messinian olive grove, you learn all about the connection of this noble fruit with the people and land that have produced it since antiquity, making it a staple of the Mediterranean diet.
It’s worth timing your visit to coincide with the harvest – a community-affair of laying out nets, beating the gnarled trunks or branches with a stick and watching the fruit fall. And then on to the olive press, where the magic happens. There are traditional mills and modern high-volume facilities, but they all have the same goal. An astonishing 95% of the olive oil produced in Messinia is extra-virgin. Just take a chunk of bread and taste the liquid gold and you’ll understand why.
You’ll learn that olive oil sampling is every bit as sophisticated as wine tasting. You’ll talk acidity (the lower the better), variety (Koroneiki is king down here), aromas (freshly cut grass, tropical fruit…) and taste (bitter, peppery…). And of course you’ll meet the colourful personalities behind the product.
There’s a depth to the experience you’d scarcely have imagined, but most of all it’s the tastes that will stay with you – especially when you buy a bottle or two and return home with a part of the Peloponnese you’ll never forget.