A Russian expat in Turkey makes healthy olive oil near Mount Ida
by Leyla Yvonne Ergil
ISTANBULNov 13, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Leyla Yvonne Ergil
Nov 13, 2015 12:00 am
Having settled in Turkey 20 years ago, Russian expat Larissa Robins runs a factory producing olive oil with traditional methods near Mount Ida
Olive oil is one of the most important elements of Turkey and Mediterranean cuisine, and has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Dhara Olive Oil, Turkey's first boutique organic olive oil factory owned by a Russian expat, produces the purest form of olive oil using an antique press method to provide this "liquid gold" for her loyal customer base and all from her top-notch Tuscany-style facilities in a traditional village in the Mount Ida.
I bet you didn't know that Turkey's first organic boutique olive oil producer was a Russian expat named Larissa Robins, who set up her state-of-the-art factory over a decade ago based on Tuscany-style olive oil production methods and nestled on a hilltop overlooking the Gulf of Edremit in the oxygen-laden Mount Ida region in Çanakkale. Known for its high quality premium olive oil series, produced from green olives, black olives and wild olives, Dhara Olive Oil is arguably the highest quality olive oil produced in Turkey.
Larissa Robins (R) set up her olive oil factory over a decade ago based on Tuscan olive oil production methods.
This is all due to Larissa, the glowing and effervescent Russian expat fluent in English and Turkish, which she flips back and forth between in explaining her story and passion for producing the highest quality olive oil pretty much in the world. Named after 10-year-old daughter, Dhara Olive Oil has been going strong for over 10 years now, having opened in 2004 after Larissa travelled all over Turkey and the world to hone in on this traditional craft, which she ended up doing so in Tuscany, before returning to Turkey to found the Dhara factory and to make the Mount Ida region with its mountains meeting the sea, her home.
Larissa actually first came to Turkey 20 years ago and after spending years running a successful company in international trade she had a change of heart and with the realization that money does not indeed buy happiness, she decided to pursue what she loved. And she loved olive oil. "I wanted to do something from my heart, so I embraced the tree, so to say," Larissa explained. She told me how she travelled the world and all of Turkey and educated herself with all of the books she could find about olive oil production methods. She found her "teacher" in an olive oil producer named Piero from Tuscany.
Learning the craft from those who do it the best, she learned that the best olive oil is pressed from earlier picked olives, such as in the month of October when they are still green, unlike the conventional method of picking olives in November. She learned how olives should be picked with minimal abuse to the fruit, and preserved with no additives, she learned so much more she could write a thesis, she says. But, long story short, she brought out Piero from Tuscany to help her establish Dhara's top-notch facility with state-of-the art machinery brought out by Italian technicians themselves, all devoted to protecting, preserving and deriving its oil in what she calls the "antique press method."
Every year in the months of October and November Larissa and her team of loyal local villagers head to her plantations to painstakingly handpick olives. The olives are then transported by horse in conical baskets to the factory where they are meticulously pressed in a very special stone-press style machine by Pieralisi, the top olive oil machinery producers in the world. Later the olive paste derived is spread out onto woven trays that are pressed together "like a sandwich" she tells me, patiently explaining to me all of the processes used, including distillation and then the addition of nitrogen to prevent oxidation and their storage, one of the most critical elements. Bottling is done to order and into special Murano glass bottles imported from Italy and France.
The focus, she tells me time and time again, is absolutely solely on quality and not on quantity. "We are an estate producer," she tells me as all of the olives used are from her own thousand-plus trees on a combined 100,000 square meters of land. Her team starts a month earlier than locals and her factory is up and running before the Turks have even begun picking she says. "The reason we start picking in October is because the best olive oil in the world is produced from olives when they are still green." This would be Dhara Olive Oil's Premium October Harvest series. Once the olives tend to take on shades of rose and bluey hues, the factory embarks on the November Harvest series, also meticulously picked, pressed and prepared. Meanwhile Dhara also prepares jars of hand-crushed green olives and black olives left to cure in a basket of sea salt for a month. "The least interference in nature, the better" she tells me, adding that "the principles of nature are minimum ego and minimum processes."
"Have you ever seen a wild olive tree," she asked me, to which I said that no, I don't believe I had. That is because they are extremely rare in the world, however they do still exist in forests and woodlands in Turkey. Cultivation of the olive began in the Roman Empire, which is relatively new for a country like Turkey, Larissa explains and so miraculously there are actually a few areas where wild olive trees, known as Olea Oleaster in Latin, and delice in Turkish have remained untouched. Wild olives are one-third the size of cultivated olives, have a higher water content and tricky to pick because they are thorny, Larissa explains, and therefore while it may take approximately 6 to 8 kilos of cultivated olives to produce a liter of oil, it takes 10 times that, requiring 70 to 100 kilos of these olives to produce a single liter, which could sell for upwards of TL 800 ($278). "This is the true olive oil and is real medicine," she tells me explaining that when you rub some on your hand it is absorbed by the skin in its entirety and is used solely for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
Considered the "queen of olive oil" by those in the know, Dhara Olive Oil has a loyal following of customers who purchase Larissa's oils each season. Her production is limited to her own estate and the highest quality of olives pressed within hours solely at her own factory, which means she only produces approximately three tons a year. Her focus is not on quantity but quality and her customers know that so she has a loyal returning clientele that consists of parents wanting the highest quality product for their babies, people who have fallen ill, connoisseurs and the "conscious," those who realize that the food we consume is in fact medicine. "There are no enzymes, no chemicals mixed in, we are completely transparent and you can visit our home and factory, and see for yourself," Larissa says and it's true, having seen it for myself I have a new passion and thirst as it were for this delicious "liquid gold," which really was a pure pleasure tasting in her flagship facilities and shop in Ahmetçe village where visitors are welcome year-round. I recommend you pay a visit within the month however, because the sheer whiff of the olives from her pressing machine is an aroma I will never forget nor the wonderful afternoon I spent meeting my new friend and fellow expat Larissa. Visit www.dhara.com.tr for more info.