In the past few weeks there have been stories going around about this Greek 15,000 dollar olive oil called Lambda. At first I thought it was a mistake but I was able to confirm that yes they are selling bespoke olive oil for 11,000 euros which is about 15,000 US dollars.
I knew of this Greek olive oil a few years back, being sold at Harrods, the fancy British department store for about 100 Euros a liter (131$ per 34 ounces). The olive oil used at the time was from the Kritsa Cooperative in Crete. I had interviewed their president last year, but since then, they have parted ways.
The Kritsa olive oil has won several awards and I had the opportunity to taste it, it is sold in cooperation with Gaea, an internationally known private company, which sells and produces quality Greek agricultural products and bottled the Kritsa olive oil. You can find it at several super markets in Athens, and not for 130 dollars.
An article in Olive Oil Times had mentioned that Lambda’s retail price was nearly 52 times what was paid to the producer of the oil… The the coop’s farmers were paid only 2.70 Euros (US$ 3.57) at the time for that olive oil. Speiron, the company that sells Lambda, declares that the article posted by Olive Oil Times contains false and inaccurate information.
Now I do not know the exact price that the particular olive oil producers sold their oil, but I can tell you that it comes pretty close to what other producers are selling it for, and that’s not good. So while I think that 130$ for a liter of olive oil is a bit scammy, I do think that it brought attention to the typical Greek olive oil producer to start bottling, their olive oil and stop selling it at such low prices.
Speiron talks about providing olive oil from the oldest olive trees, from the koroneiki olive, an olive oil with low acidity and rich in phenols. Well guess what? Many olive oils from Greece have those characteristics; in fact, the majority of Greek olive oil is Extra Virgin Olive Oil (compared to other olive oil producing countries)) and made from the koroneiki olive. The problem is that nobody knows this, since most Greek olive oil is sold in bulk; it is common practice for Greeks to buy olive oil in bulk in plain metal cans and other containers with no labels.
Did you know that the original olive oil used for this 130$ dollar a liter Lambda brand was virtually unknown a few years ago? It was sold in those metal cans in local markets in Crete. After Nikos Zacahariadis took over as president, he collaborated with Gaea, bottled this olive oil and ended up winning the first prize in the prestigious IOC 2008 Mario Solinas Awards.
I wonder how many other Greek olive oils go by unnoticed being sold in tin cans and plastic bottles or being sold in bulk to other countries and sold under another name or origin? Plenty, I can assure you.
The truth is Greeks have taken for granted the quality of their olive oil. Year ago olive oil was a commodity like corn; almost all areas of Greece produced olive oil, it was (and still is) used in large amounts in the traditional Greek diet, and plain and simple: it was what their land made.
However, once research showed how valuable this oil was in terms of nutrition, and once the Western world became interested in this once characterized as “heavy and strong flavored” oil that only Italian and Greek immigrants used it for cooking, it no longer could be (and should not be) treated as a cheap commodity.
So back to Lambda. Ok so perhaps they raised awareness of the fact that Greeks need to give their olive oil the attention it deserves and bottle it, label it, and promote it, but this 15,000 dollar bespoke olive oil is really not serving a purpose, it’s not really helping the Greek olive oil industry.
It’s not about the olive oil, it’s about the bottle. I am sure there are other bespoke products out there involving certain food products, the difference is that they are not advertised with press releases, photos etc., they are probably only known in certain circles among the very rich. This type of promotion is well… a bit tacky.
And just for the record: Not all Greek olive oil producers are out to make a quick buck or make huge profits as it may appear with this example, in fact quite the opposite; their high quality premium olive oil is often undervalued and underappreciated. But the good news is that more and more Greek producers are finally bottling their olive oil and making it available to consumers around the world, and you don’t have to pay 130 dollars for it.