By Rasheeda Bhagat,
“Though it is said that olives will not grow in India, I do not believe that this is true. India is a huge country with very different kinds of climate and I believe the climate of Rajasthan can produce olives.”
It began just as an Internet chat by a Turkish journalist who was very fond of olives and olive oil. It then turned into an e-mail group and “before we knew it we had 3,000 members. Housewives, architects, journalists and, of course, those associated with the table olive and olive oil trade, and so we decided to form Zeytindostu - Olive and Olive Oil Association”, says Metin Olken, Chairman of the association.
The name sounds quite a tongue twister until he explains it — Zeytin in Arabic means olive and dostu (does the word sound familiar?) means friend. The association has grown big enough to hold the first exhibition — Antolives — of the industry at the swank Istanbul Exhibition centre. It has about 65 stalls from the table olive and olive oil producers and exporters and inaugurated by the agriculture minister of Turkey on Wednesday, it has managed to create a lot of media, business and consumer attention.
On a mild winter evening prior to the inaugural, at a gourmet restaurant called Sunset in downtown Istanbul, a small group of international journalists and international olive oil tasting experts from Italy and Israel debate the intricacies of how you tell good olive oil from the not-so-good.
Dr M. Resat Akkan — his doctorate is in finance and not in olives — is one of the few olive growers in Turkey who has gone in for organic farming.
At dinner he decides to put the experts — fortunately the tasting experts and not the journalists — to test; the latter are left to enjoy the gourmet on offer.
Akkan is more than irritated that the olive oil offered as a dip for the exotic breads on the table is sprinkled with herbs, and that the salad served has no olives in it; “this kind of thing is nonsense,” he fumes. Olive oil should be left as just live oil and not mixed with anything else, is his philosophy. A visit to the kitchen and he returns with a jug of olive oil and requests the Israeli expert Fathi Abd El Hadi, senior Agronomist-Orchards, Netafim, Israel, to analyse the quality, particularly the aroma and taste of the oil.
The exercise begins with a deep sniff, a tablespoonful of intake and the verdict is out. “It’s grassy, fruity, bitter, pungent. good oil.” The Italian expert aggresses too, after a taste.
Akkan then pulls out a finely and fancily packaged bottle of organic extra virgin olive oil — his own produce from his company Alyattes Organik Olive and Olive Oil — and asks for a certificate, which is promptly given.
But what is of greater interest to the Indian journalist is that Hadi is trying to grow olives in India for a company in Rajasthan. “We are advising the company which has planted olives over about 200 hectares, and though it is said that olives will not grow in India, I do not believe that this is true. India is a huge country with very different kinds of climate and I believe the climate of Rajasthan can produce olives,” he says confidently.
As the olive grove is only a year old, he says we have to wait for a couple of years to see the results.
But experts from the International Olive Oil Association feel that both China and India have tried to grow olives and failed, “and we think it will not be possible to grow olives in your country”.
Will the Israeli expert and his company manage to weave the olive magic in India? Well, the jury is out on this one for quite a while.
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