Growing up, Melbourne sisters Kat and Yianna Velos spent their summers on the Mani Peninsula, southern Greece, looking out over the Mediterranean sea and the lush green olive groves on their family property. The area in the Peloponnese region of Greece is a tenth the size of Victoria, and it’s virtually one continuous grove of around 30 million olive trees.
Before travelling abroad, the sisters had only tasted the 100 per cent extra virgin, raw, unfiltered and certified organic oil made from the family koreneiki olives, which the girls call “liquid gold”. Their father always imported some for family and friends.
“We literally have olive oil on tap,” says Kat. “We have a little wine cellar in our house, and we have a 50-litre silver drum with a tap filled with olive oil. Our parents instilled in us a love and philosophy of food from a young age,” she says. “Even growing up in Australia, our dad would take us to the market every Friday to shop for fresh produce. Food is a sign of love in a Greek household. If you’re unwell, if there’s a celebration, our house would always be full of food and people, and people bringing over special dishes.
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“Mum grew up in Greece and moved here when she was 22, so her understanding of cooking was very different to a typical Australian’s. Her father was a fisherman in the local village in Mani and so she grew up having fish caught every day at home. They milled their own flour, made their own cheeses and that emphasis on quality and produce was naturally passed onto us because that’s the way they were raised.”
When Kat moved back to Melbourne from New York, where she was studying law, she started to document her cooking online.
“Olive oil is pretty much the base for every pasta, and as I was doing it, I’d give advice on which products to use. The one thing I always said was to make sure you get the best quality olive oil possible because it will affect the flavour of whatever dish you are making, and you want to get the maximum benefit from it. People would ask which olive oil I use, and when I told them, they wanted to try it.”
Kat and Yianna ended up sending one-litre bottles to customers in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney. “I said to Yianna, I think we need to start doing something with this olive oil because it was getting a bit of a cult following.”
Kat spoke to her father about making his small-scale importing of olive oil more commercial. “We started with 750-millilitre bottles for people to try, selling through our website, and we sold over 30 bottles in the first week. People were buying our olive oil for Christmas presents instead of wine,” she says.
For now, the sisters are using the olive oil from their family groves. In the future they plan on getting more oil from other local farmers in the area as a co-op scenario to showcase the olive oil of Mani and the region.
“Greek olive is still an untapped resource,” says Yianna. “Its freshness and organic nature are unparalleled in my opinion. It is a family-run farm, so you don’t have a mass production of olive oil for commercial purposes. They do export the oil, but it’s also what people have been raised on since they were kids and the quality and the importance of it has been passed down from generation to generation; it’s what they eat themselves so there’s extra care going into it.”
The early harvest oil is collected in October when the olives aren’t fully ripe. “The early harvest component … is really important to us because the health properties of the olives are maintained – the omega 3 fatty acids, the polyphenols and antioxidants which fight inflammation in your body – and also because of its peppery, full-bodied, vibrant, flavour.”
Golden Groves is predominantly sold through their website, but the siblings plan to work with similarly minded stockists (who are in line with their healthy eating philosophy) and welcome any wholesale requests from restaurants as well.