Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Photo Credit: Manolis Nikolakakis
Early harvest, unfiltered olive oil is the fresh olive oil from green olives harvested early in the season. In Italy, they call it “olio nuovo”, or “new oil”, and some villages in olive-producing regions, like Tuscany, organise a special festival after the first olive oil of the season is produced: the “festa dell'olio nuovo”. In Greece, it is known as "Agoureleo" (Αγουρέλαιο).
Early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil responds to all the strict quality criteria of extra virgin olive oil, and additionally, brims with extra taste and health benefits due to its prime freshness.
For connoisseurs, it is the “crème de la crème” of olive oils.
It does have quite distinct characteristics:
Health Benefits of Early Harvest, Unfiltered
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil gets its most valuable properties from the polyphenols it contains. These are active components present in vegetal nutrients in different associations and quantities.
The amount of polyphenols* in olive oil depends on the timing of the harvest, the preservation of the fruit after picking and until the oil has been extracted, the actual extraction method and the time and conditions of storage after the olive oil has been produced.
Extra virgin olive oil has significantly more polyphenols than any other lower grade olive oil; and early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil has the most polyphenols of all. On the one hand, the early harvest contains a majority of olives that are still green (i.e. not quite fully ripe) and these are richer in polyphenols than riper olives; and on the other hand, the more recently any olive oil has been extracted, the fresher it is and the higher its content of polyphenols.
The "juice" extracted from the olives must normally sit for about three weeks before it is filtered. Skipping the filtering operation preserves the freshness of the olive oil and therefore its high rate of polyphenols, but on the other side, unfiltered olive oil can look cloudy due to the presence of natural sediments, and will have a shorter "shelf life" - 12 months instead of 18 - although the expiry date of olive oil is only theoretical, and properly stored olive oil (away from light and oxygen) can be kept for much longer.
If all the production stages are managed with care, from the harvest and the transportation of the olives to the press, up until the actual extraction, then the precious polyphenols will reach their maximum potential content in early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil.
Photo credit: Alain Hervalau
Polyphenols have been scientifically proven to have strong health benefits*. Besides their antioxidant properties contributing to slowing down the aging of cells, various medical studies have indicated that polyphenols have preventive effects against the development of some cancers, of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis as well as neurodegenerative diseases*. Polyphenols are also believed to protect the skin from the damage caused by the sun’s UV radiation*.
Oleocanthal* is a type of polyphenol that is particularly densely found in early harvest, unfiltered olive oil. It is also the main component of ibuprofen, hence the anti-inflammatory benefits of "Agoureleo".
Polyphenols are by nature volatile, so they are affected by the contact with oxygen, and they will disappear over time. This is why early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil is recommended to be consumed rapidly, when it still retains its valuable properties.
It is recommended for any kind of olive oil to be stored away from light, oxygen contact, heat and damp; early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil must absolutely follow the same rules as it is even more fragile.
Organoleptic Benefits of Early Harvest
Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The sensory qualities of early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil are also quite special.
For one thing, the acidity level is lower. One of the criteria for an olive oil to be extra virgin is its acidity level, which must be lower than 0.8%. My SAFIkala extra virgin olive oil is guaranteed to have a maximum acidity level of 0.39%, but after it has just been extracted and comes out fresh from the press and unfiltered, its acidity level will be even lower. My early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil has an acidity level that never exceeds 0.3%.
Green olives being washed prior to the extraction of Early Harvest Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A drizzle of "Agoureleo", the Cretan early-harvest, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil, will revamp any dish. Here, my "Archangel Michael's Early Harvest" Agoureleo is drizzled over a simple lettuce and avocado salad. It will taste even more delicious with a dash of "fleur de sel"-type sea salt!
Photo Credit: Manolis Nikolakakis
A lower acidity level, together with the higher content of polyphenols, convey to freshly pressed olive oil its distinctive taste: it is typically more pungent and spicy/ peppery, and has a slightly bitter taste. Altogether, its flavour will be typically stronger, richer and fruitier.
One of the criteria olive oil tasters consider when rating an olive oil is the “sting” they get in the throat, sometimes leading to a slight cough, which is for them a sign of high quality. Early harvest, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil has this effect, due to its high concentration of polyphenols, and particularly of oleocanthal*.
My "Agoureleo": SAFIkala "Archangel Michael's Early Harvest"
Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Nov. 2018 vintage
Its colour is also very special: it is greener than standard olive oil, and its nuances of green can vary from deep to bright green, due to the high chlorophyll content specific to early harvest olives.
It is generally produced in limited quantities for the farmer and his family as well as a narrow circle of connoisseurs around them who prize it. On the one hand, this is because farmers prefer to harvest fully mature olives as they deliver a higher yield than green olives, and on the other hand, because the sediments and pungency of early harvest, unfiltered olive oil may well naturally put off non-initiated consumers and therefore require lengthy explanations which farmers easily give up on.
Its unique taste and aromas need little alteration to be enjoyed at their best: serve it straight over a dish of pasta, fresh cheese, salads, a vegetable soup, or a plate of carpaccio; add it onto steamed vegetables just before serving, with freshly-squeezed lemon and a dash of sea-salt; or prepare deliciously tasty vinaigrettes, dips and marinades with it.
Every year, I select one of my olive groves to start the first harvest of the season in and from which I will extract my own "Agoureleo". I select the olive grove that has been the most promising throughout the year in terms of sun exposure, access to water, surroundings, and responsiveness to the natural manure I have fed its soil with and to the pruning of its trees. That first harvest of the season traditionally takes place on the 8th November, which is my father's name day (Saint Michael's day, on the Greek orthodox calendar).
This is why I gave the olive oil from that harvest the name of "Archangel Michael's Early Harvest". I chose a special bottle and a special packaging for it to emphasise its uniqueness. You can read more about it on the "Product Details" page of my website.
Extensive literature is available to support the points in this section. Below is a short selection which can be consulted for more details:
European Food Information Council:
Nature Magazine and European Journal of Clinical Nutrition :
American National Institutes of Health Nov-Dec 2009: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835915
Alternative Medicine Review Volume 12, 2007: http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/12/4/331.pdf
Owen, RW, Giacosa, A & Hull, W : Olive oil consumption and health: the possible role of antioxidants. Lancet Oncol (2000)
Elena Sender, Sciences Et Avenir, 2015 : https://www.sciencesetavenir.fr/sante/ce-compose-d-huile-d-olive-tue-les-cellules-cancereuses-en-moins-d-une-heure_28640
Photo credit: Susanne Hjælm Nørregaard