Published in the Citizen Herald Feb. 2, 2011
By Deb Holt
While most Jesup residents were making grocery lists for a traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, Kyle Schuler of Jesup was making a packing list for a trip to Greece.
Schuler, along with his son-in-law, Paul Boundas, and Paul’s father, Ted Boundas, traveled to Greece in November last year to take part in the Boundas family olive harvest.
Paul, who is married to Jesup native Kimberly Schuler-Boundas, owns The Country House Restaurant in Alsip, IL, along with his brother Dave. They use the family’s olive oil from Greece in their restaurant, and sell it through a website, pylianestates.com.
Ted Boundas is the owner of 20 acres near Pylos, Greece that is home to 50 olive trees.
Schuler has wanted to participate in the Boundas family olive harvest in Greece since hearing about it.
The experience lived up to the dream.
“They talked about it enough, that it was everything I expected,” said Schuler. “I really enjoyed myself.”
The olive harvest process is rustic, compared to an Iowa corn harvest.
“The country is rocky and mountainous,” explained Paul. “It would be hard for equipment to get to the olive trees. Most of the operations are little, owned by small families who can’t afford the equipment anyway.”
Schuler explained that nets were spread beneath the olive trees to gather olives that fall. The harvesters use a tool that looks like a long-handled pitch fork with straight, rubber-coated tines to knock the olives from the trees into the nets.
During the harvest, the trees are pruned, much like fruit trees here in America. Those branches are taken to a portable machine that will gently beat the olives from the branch.
“The machine is like a drum with rubber fingers that beat the olives off the branches,” explained Schuler.
He added that the machine was not really used during this harvest. Instead, the harvesters placed the branches over the nets, then beat the branch with a stick to knock off the olives.
It took the three Americans, along with four Greek workers, about 90 minutes to harvest the olives from the 50 trees.
The olives were then gathered into 110-lb. gunny sack bags, and taken to nearby Messohori, where the press is located. The bags are stamped with a number which indicates which olive grove the olives are from. The number is used for identification when the bags are at the press.
Cold pressed oil
Upon arrival at the press in Messohori, the olives are poured into the hopper and sent up an elevator belt.
“A fan at the top of the elevator blows away the twigs and leaves,” said Schuler.
After this separation, the olives are washed, then pass through a final screen to catch any remaining debris.
A double hammer mill quickly crushes the olives. According to the Pylian Estates website, the olives are then sent through various malaxers to mix the olives and loosen the oil for extraction; this takes about 30 minutes. A horizontal centrifuge separates the oil from the water and the solids without adding heat or water; this keeps all the beneficial antioxidants intact. Water and solids are piped out for further use.
Finally, the oil is sent through a vibrating screen to a horizontal centrifuge which separates the remaining water from the oil. The highest quality, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil flows out less than 45 minutes from the start! It is ready for immediate consumption.
“The best way I’ve ever eaten [olive oil] in my life was when it was bright green, coming out of the spout at the press,” recalled Paul.
He said slices of toasted bread were run under the spout of oil. The bread was then topped with squeezed lemon and a dash of sea salt.
“It was as new as you can get it,” he said about the delicious treat.
Paul said another tasty way to cook with the oil is making french fries, although this is rather indulgent because of the amount of oil it takes to make the fries. He noted he keeps the french-fry oil in his refrigerator at home to make Greek chicken or some other favorite family recipe.
Pylian Estates olive oil is used in about 20-30 dishes on The Country House menu. Any dishes on the restaurant’s menu, however, can be made with the olive oil upon request.
Bottles of the Pylian Estates olive oil are shipped across the United States, and can be purchased through the website. Olive oil connoisseurs bring one- to five-gallon containers to the Boundases to be filled with this organically grown oil. Fans of the oil testify to its sweet, non-bitter taste.
Schuler enjoys the taste of the olive oil in his own cooking.
“From the tree to home, it was seven days,” said Schuler. “That’s how fresh that oil was.”
The American harvesters brought 25 gallons of the oil home on the plane as baggage. The rest of the oil is being shipped in 55-gallon drums. [As of the interview, the oil had not yet arrived.]
According to Paul, most of the olive oil on grocery store shelves is not “extra virgin” and is a mix of other oils from Mediterranean countries.
Pylian Estates olive oil is stamped with the date and location of harvest on each bottle.
“If there is no harvest date and location on your bottle of olive oil, it’s because they don’t know,” he explained.
Boundas recommended storing olive oil in a cool, dark place, not too close to a heat source. Light and oxygen affect the oil.
The cork that is in each Pylian Estates olive oil bottle is to prevent oxygen from promoting rancidity.
“Cork the bottle between uses,” he said. “It preserves the health benefits.”
Schuler, Paul and Ted shared a dinner at a hotel restaurant by the Mediterranean Sea on Thanksgiving Day.
They chose a fresh fish that was on ice from the restaurant’s kitchen. It was a good-sized snapper, drenched in olive oil and totally delicious.
“We didn’t even look at the price,” Schuler recalled. “It cost $105! We ate most of it [the fish] but not all.”
Schuler, who likes to bake pies, promised to bake a pecan pie for his hosts for Thanksgiving. Not knowing what ingredients would be readily available in Greece, he brought his own Karo Syrup and even a rolling pin to make the crust.
The one ingredient he believed Greece would have was the pecans.
Not true. The three enjoyed a “walnut” pie instead.
The weather was beautiful while the trio was in Greece. Temperatures were in the 70s, and one day reached the 80s. Schuler said there were no pesky insects such as mosquitoes to bother them during the harvest process.
Everyday while there, the men enjoyed coffee and conversation in the morning, then took a run or walk together, with the Mediterranean countryside as a gorgeous scenic back drop.
They often enjoyed lunch at the town square in Pylos. Schuler said the square is surrounded by shops, cafes, bakeries, etc. Customers sit at tables in the square that are designated for a certain shop. Waiters or servers from that shop then come to take orders at the tables.
The men also visited Boundas relatives in Greece, and observed their olive harvests.
Schuler has been to Greece one other time, in the summer, when Paul and Kimberly also visited with their children.
Paul said September is the most beautiful time to visit Greece, but they go in July because it is a “down time” for his business. In addition to the restaurant in Alsip, Paul also runs the kitchens for six different schools in the area, providing the students with healthy meals. Paul has been asked to speak to the Harvard culinary students about becoming chefs in school lunchrooms.
Schuler is grateful to the Boundas family for hosting him in Greece.
He concluded, “It’s one thing to tour the country, but to have Ted there who speaks Greek, and has family there to show you around, and to visit their homes is wonderful.”