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Oleosophia: Love & Tradition Align with the Wisdom of Nature to Bring High-Quality Manaki Olive Oil to the World
by Maria A. Karamitsos
When Marianna Devetzoglou met her husband George Manginas, it was a match made in an olive grove. Born in Athens to an entrepreneurial family, Marianna studied physics and worked in the materials industry and in EU research projects for autonomous vehicles. She’d always loved to travel and explore. “My father’s businesses and my exploring nature sparked something in me. I wanted to create something of value that helps local communities and changes people’s lives,” Marianna said. She didn’t know what that would be, until she met George. “He had similar ideas, a creative mind, and a restless spirit. That was the final boost I needed in order to start realizing my purpose and setting my goals.”
George worked as an IT engineer. He hailed from an agricultural family with a long history of producing olive oil. “Through him, I was reintroduced to nature. I learned about olive oil—the cultivation, the olive groves, but also the great connection that people and nature have to enjoy through this unique food.”
With George as her guide, she learned about freshness, authenticity, and discovered the aromas of olive oil, that seemed so distant from the oils she consumed in the city. “That was my aha moment,” she revealed. “I realized this was something I wanted—needed—to share with the world.”
Marianna recalled her mother’s nostalgic stories. Like many Greeks of the Diaspora, her mother, born and raised in Rhodesia, spoke about limited access to Greek products. “Whenever they could obtain a Greek product, it felt like having a real taste of Greece. That’s something I want to create in people’s hearts and minds.”
The family has produced Manaki olive oil, cultivated in their olive groves in the village of Kalentzi near Corinth, for three generations. Soon after George and Marianna became engaged in 2017, the new generation became actively involved in production, applying sustainable agricultural practices, and introducing new and innovative techniques to not only create high-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), but to also respect the environment. Oleosophia was born. Marianna created the business plan; designed the concept, branding, the vision and values they would embody. By the time they married the following year, the first bottles began to hit the market.
The name is inspired by the product’s global character and the art and science of producing top-quality EVOO. Marianna explained. “Oleosophia reflects what we feel about olive oil and that is awe at its immense wisdom. Hence, the name combines the Latin word for olive oil (oleo) and the Greek word for wisdom (sophia). Producing high-quality EVOO is not simple. It’s a combination of tradition, science, and art. This makes us feel humbled before the olive tree.”
While most people are familiar with Koroneiki olives and EVOO cultivated and produced in Crete and Kalamata (and mass-produced in other areas), Manaki olive oil is different in character. This variety boasts a unique aroma and flavor profile. Marianna described Manaki olive oil as rich in fruitiness and flavor, with a predominance of fresh green aromas.
Manaki olive trees thrive in Corinth’s microclimate. It’s grown only in one other area in Greece–Argolis–and nowhere else in the world. This rare and sensitive olive renders a unique, top-quality oil, but due to its high-maintenance nature, it’s a challenge to cultivate and produce. Yields are typically small, which makes it a truly artisan product. Additional time and care go into every tree, every olive, and into each segment of the production process. Time-honored techniques combined with innovative processes, blended with a love and passion for the olive and nature, fuse art and science into a well-balanced product, worthy of this rare and beautiful olive.
As Marianna’s passion for the olive grew, so did her thirst for knowledge. It fueled her desire to educate people about the benefits of olive oil, how to distinguish a quality olive oil from a mass-produced variety, and how to incorporate it into one’s diet. She became a certified olive oil sommelier. “An olive oil sommelier is a professional who has undergone training and learned to identify the positive attributes and the defects found in olive oil. They also understand where the defects come from, so as to advise producers about good practices to apply. They also recommend appropriate food pairings, educate professional chefs, and help educate consumers on the health benefits, how to store it, and how to shop. I took a course and passed an examination, but I’m always learning, building on my knowledge.” She described the course as “lifechanging”, and “gave me new perspectives on the entire olive oil lifecycle.”
This education and their forward-thinking have resulted in oils that have garnered a series of prestigious awards. Their Manaki Monovarietal First Harvest received a silver awards in the 2021 Berlin Global Olive Oil Awards and 2021 Athena International Olive Oil Competition. They’ve also received a GREAT TASTE AWARD and Bronze Award from Olympia Awards. More recently, they were awarded the coveted prize of Best Manaki Monovarietal in Greece.
Marianna has applied this knowledge to workshops she has to designed to educate people about EVOO, and in tastings and tours of their olive groves. “I teach them how to evaluate an oil, spot the defects, so they know what they’re buying. We discuss the entire process. Most have no idea about how olive oil is produced, the parameters that must be examined, the difficulties many producers face, and why, as a result, it cannot be the cheap product that you often see on supermarket shelves. Consumer education is key in our field. Well-informed consumers make better choices about ingredients they use in their kitchens and for their families. After, they know how to select olive oil, and know the real value and significance of tracing it back to the producer. Once you experience authentic EVOO and learn how to evaluate one, you can’t go back. Olive oil must be evaluated both chemically and organoleptically by a certified panel of tasters in order to be characterized as extra virgin, virgin, or just olive oil. Only high-quality EVOO can boost our health due to its nutritional value and plethora of antioxidants. A good, quality oil elevates our food experience.”
Olive oil tastings are growing in popularity. During these tastings, consumers learn what authentic, top-quality EVOO looks and tastes like. “Learning how to taste and assess EVOO will help you avoid defective oils on the shelves and help you select an authentic product. Don’t just look at what the label and price tag say. We also stress the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the great effects high-quality EVOO has on our body and mind.”
If you have the opportunity, visit an olive grove. Marianna believes that in addition to learning about EVOO and tastings, seeing the actual trees has many benefits. “It’s a wonderful experience that creates beautiful memories. It connects you to the place and cultivates a new way of seeing things.”
Next time you’re in the area, put a visit to Oleosophia on your list. The family grove is located in the village of Kalentzi, near Corinth. Just one hour from Athens, it’s easy to visit. They host two tours a day (morning and evening sessions), limited to eight people maximum, to create the optimum experience. Sessions include a walking tour through the groves and an educational olive oil tasting. Visitors learn all about the Manaki trees and all phases of cultivation, harvest, and production. They’ll leave with the basic principles of EVOO tasting that can be applied to shopping, storage, and meal preparation. They’ll also know how to evaluate the quality of an olive oil to elevate their taste experience.
Oleosophia EVOO is available in the U.S. via a partnership with Diane Kochilas. Purchase their award-winning First Harvest Manaki Monovarietal through the e-shop at shop.dianekochilas.com.
This hardworking young couple remains committed to learn more about their craft and to apply that knowledge to their products, but family is their top priority. “Family is important to us, and our followers—the Oleosophers—are our extended family. We hope to see you all someday on a tour and tasting.”
Maria A. Karamitsos has been a positive voice in Greek media since 2002. She was the Founder, Publisher, & Editor of WindyCity Greek magazine. For 10 years, she served as the Associate Editor & Senior Writer for The Greek Star newspaper. Her work has been published in GreekCircle magazine, The National Herald, GreekReporter, Harlots Sauce Radio, Women.Who.Write, NEO Magazine, KPHTH magazine, XPAT ATHENS, and more. Maria has contributed to three books: Greektown Chicago: Its History, Its Recipes; The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook; and the inaugural Voices of Hellenism Literary Journal. She’s working on her 1st novel.
Learn more at Oleosophia.com. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @Oleosophia.