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Laleli – producer of olive oil in Turkey

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

For every citizen of Turkey there are more than 3 olive trees. The country has a total of 250 million olive trees, many of them along the Aegean Sea coast in the west. Yahya and Mehmet Laleli are among the olive farmers who are converting more and more of their production to organic. Their company in Edremit Bay between Izmir and Canakale specialises in flavoured oils. They have so far converted only some of their 50,000 trees to organic, because they are also in the process of developing their marketing and their export business. (Picture: The family name means “related to tulips”: Mehmet Laleli in front of his company building)
The attractive product offer of Mehmet Laleli (38) and his father Yahya (73) consists of thirteen spicy oils, ranging from lemon, bergamot, garlic and basil to thyme and pepper. They are sold in 0.5 litre bottles with a product information card (available in four languages) in colour and attached to the neck (see picture below). Five of these oils – thyme, laurel, rosemary, orange and lemon – will be available in organic quality from the end of 2012. “We work entirely without infusing essences and flavouring agents and only the flavouring plant is added to the processing of the olives,” Laleli explains. The Lalelis harvest 1,500 t of olive oil a year from their 450 ha of olive groves on 270 different plots of land that they lease at high cost from the umbrella organization of a national foundation. The management of this land is very labour intensive. About 200 t from 45 hectares has now been certified organic by Ecocert. (Picture at the left: team member in the shop shows organic olive oil) 

(Photo left to right: spicy oils, labelling is exact handwork, organic olive oil bottles marked with Organik and an organic logo at the lower right side)


A visitor centre opened four years ago. It lies on the through-road from Izmir to the Bay of Edremit in the village of Taylieli near Burhaniye/Edremit. In front of the 600 m² building are display beds of herbs that are planted with flowers at other times of the year.
“In the summer, many tourists stop as they are driving past when they see all these flowerbeds,” says Mehmet Laleli. The building houses a restaurant, that seats 35 people inside and 40 outside, and a shop (picture) selling all the products of the company. The high season for the visitor centre is between 10 July and 31 August, which is the main holiday period in Turkey as elsewhere. But outside the peak season locals and Turkish tourists come to stock up with olive oil specialities. The restaurant (picture), that uses organic food from their own farm as much as possible, provides a hot, freshly prepared meal every day for the 45 workers from the factory. (Photo above: dozens of tiny bottles hanging from the ceiling)

The methods used by conventional agriculture in Turkey are often not sustainable. The ground in the olive plantations is deep-ploughed twice a year for fire protection, after which it is left fallow. This practice controls weeds and makes harvesting the olives easier in the autumn, but when it rains heavily the humus on sloping sites in particular is washed away. Moreover, the bare soil is not good for microorganisms. Sometimes you see mile after mile of olive monocrops with scarcely another tree or bush. Occasionally there’s an almond or pear tree, but the variety is very limited. (Photo left: the versatile kitchen team)

The organic alternative looks quite different: the ground is covered all year round, and herds of sheep and goats roam about. Laleli employs a shepherd who, with the help of two herding dogs, looks after about 60 sheep (picture). Since the land they lease – often very small plots - is in scattered locations, areas that cannot be grazed are surface hoed (with about 10 cm tines). The trees are fertilised with sheep dung and compost. Laleli makes some of the sheep milk into yogurt in the factory’s kitchen. They also get a small income from selling the meat of the animals, or they use it themselves for the meals they prepare for the workers.

Up to 600 seasonal workers are employed during the olive harvest. The best olives – about 10 % of all the olives on a tree – are harvested by hand for the table. The rest are shaken from the tree and collected in tarpaulins and sheets lying on the ground. In the past, they hand-picked olives while sitting just at the right height on the backs of camels, Mehmet Laleli recounts. (Picture: the core of the olive milling machine)

The olive oil is processed at the company’s premises (covering 2 ha) that are located in a little side road nearly a kilometre from the restaurant and visitor centre in Taylieli/Edremit Bay. The olives are delivered between the end of September and the beginning of December to four red-painted buildings, where they are cut into small pieces, cold pressed and centrifuged. The oil is then stored in 4,000 l stainless steel containers. When1 kg of olives is pressed, it produces 200 g of oil. Smaller containers (0.5 l, 1.0 l or 2.5 l) are filled and labelled by hand as and when required. (Picture: Mehmet Laleli between the stainless steel containers)

Marketing and exporting are still being developed, with Japan and Malaysia the best customers. In Malaysia his business partner, the company THP, has even set up three shops under his name. Apart from selling in Turkey, Laleli’s olive oil goes to the USA, Canada, Germany and Switzerland. As well as selling in some delicatessen shops in Germany, Laleli is looking for more outlets in the wholefood trade.

He intends to add more products: a small range of Ecocert certified toiletries based on olive oil, and also spreads. His company is already producing mulberry and cherry jams. Laleli assures us that they are all organic, although not yet certified. A line of soaps with added rose, lavender, almond or olive are also available. (Picture left: on of the houses at the production site in Taylieli) 

Laleli submits his olive oil to tasting competitions and taste testing worldwide, and in the last eight years he has regularly won awards for both his conventional and his organic oils – at, for example, the Italian BioL 2009, the international iTQi Superior Taste Award in 2010 and the Feinschmecker Award, also in 2010.
The prizes are a major component of the advertising of the company that has its own laboratories to monitor its values in respect of ingredients, taste and residues. The name Laleli is well known in Turkey in the context of laboratory analysis in the field of medicine and environmental chemistry. Not for nothing did Mehmet Laleli study molecular biology and environmental science in Canada. He is fluent in English and is anxious to develop his and his father’s olive oil firm further in the direction of organic.
(Picture: Mehmet Laleli with a big Turkish breakfast)

Tip:
www.lalelioliveoil.com

Shop in Istanbul-Bebek:
Cevdet Paþa cad. No 97/A

Sellingpoints and distributors in USA, Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland, Japan:
http://www.zeytinim.com/sectiontext.aspx?id=21

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