Far from California, in a rural neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul, a young woman faced a life where…women are subservient to men and a career is out of the question. When the outside world began to reveal itself to her, the young woman decided she wanted far more…
-from the synopsis of Oro di Milas owner and producer Emine Colin’s first book titled “Goodbye Istanbul.”
In April we welcomed Oro di Milas extra virgin olive oil from Milas, Türkiye into our Collection. This high-quality extra virgin olive oil is the result of passion: for olive trees, Turkish culture, and female entrepreneurship. It is a story of like-minded and driven souls dedicated to reviving and celebrating their homeland with pride.
The story of Oro di Milas begins with Emine, the owner and producer, who left Istanbul at a young age due to the lack of business opportunities for women. As an ambitious 17 year-old, she moved to New York City alone, learned English, built a successful career in the U.S., and raised her children. Fast forward decades, Emine returned to her homeland of Türkiye to pursue her dream to give back to her culture, her people, and the land. Producing top-quality Turkish extra virgin olive oil has become her new purpose and her next chapter.
Since her return to Türkiye, Emine sees evidence that the government is lending more support toward female entrepreneurship. She is happy to be a part of the olive oil industry and use her oil as a platform to bring Turkish culture to the forefront of the world stage. She is passionate about highlighting the region of Milas, which is renowned for intricate symbols woven into their carpets. The four prevalent themes are the tree of life, mother nature, the eye, and the olive leaf – all of which are represented on the Oro di Milas logo and bottle.
Emine and her husband Mark fell in love with Milas, a city in the Muğla province in southwestern Türkiye and chose it as the site for their olive oil production. To date they have acquired almost 600 acres of ancient olive groves that had been neglected due to an aging rural population and migration of young people to the city. The 100+ year old trees are at 800-1600 feet above sea level and required extensive rehabilition. The groves were fallow and the trees were in disrepair with many weeds and fallen branches. Since the onset, their team has been working to bring the trees back to life by cutting roads in the groves, irrigating, installing terraces to reduce erosion, pruning the trees, and naturally fertilizing them (with no chemicals or pesticides).
Eager to start making oil from the olives of the revived trees, their 2021 harvest was small and though the oil was good, it wasn’t the quality they sought. With their genuine goal being the production of the highest quality EVOO, they knew they had to control every step of the process and continued refining their practices for the 2022 harvest. All their harvesting is done by hand to protect the fruits from bruising. They chose a state-of-the-art Mori Tem olive oil mill (highly respected in the industry). The site they chose to place the mill is near their four groves (spread within a 10km radius) and along a main thoroughfare in Milas. The concept was to not only process the olives there, but also to “create a [public, accessible] tasting area and to showcase the region in our olive oil,” Mark says.
Oro di Milas extra virgin olive oil is certified PDO a monovarietal; aside from a small population of native wild varietals, most of the olives that grow in Milas are of the indigenous Memecik variety. These unique fruits are large and ovular with high-quality oil content. Milas olive oil is origin-protected, which signifies that it is produced from Memecik olives.
Without olives there can be no oil, but it is the people involved in this novel project that make Oro di Milas so special. Emine and Mark have surrounded themselves with remarkable talent.“Everybody that got involved in the project believed in what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s way beyond just being a project contract for any of our team members. It’s about everybody buying into the ‘yes! we want to create something special here’ mentality,” Mark says.
Guiding them through making award-winning olive oil are two internationally renowned olive oil experts: Anita Zachou, their master blender and quality assurance consultant, and Nancy Ash, their marketing and brand ambassador for the United States. Anita and Nancy studied the groves, refined their production process, helped them develop their branding, and together they started the work of bringing forth their vision of high-quality Turkish olive oil to the world.
Elif Gedik is the architect of the olive oil mill and tasting room. “She came prepared and with a complete concept and a passion for what we were trying to do. And it wasn’t just a job for her. It was a commitment to the idea of what we were trying to create for the region,” Mark says. In each area of Türkiye, classic stonemasons use different patterns and stones to identify their specific regions. When new buildings were made, these builders would take a pile of rubble from older buildings and incorporate the broken clay tiles. Elif made sure the stone walls of their project matched the buildings in Milas that have the same kind of pattern. These include broken roof tiles that run horizontally though the stone. Elif used all local materials and indigenous stones.
Ayhan Bastug is the contractor and builder at the Oro di Milas mill. He brought his enthusiasm for the project from day one. Against all odds, he kept his word that he would get everything built before the 2022 harvest! They broke ground in August and by October, they were milling. Emine’s husband Mark has a background in building and contracting, so his willingness to oversee the project during this period greatly supported its completion in record time.
Nilgün Eren is the woman who found the groves for Emine and Mark. She is also credited for finding the mill site, obtaining permits, and making their tasting room dreams a reality. “She does not take no for an answer. She sits by the door until the paperwork is signed,” Emine says. “Our guardian angel,” Mark adds. Emine believes she is the reason they were able to estate mill their plentiful 2022 harvest.
The miller at Oro di Milas is Mert Gurkan, an energetic young man eager to learn all he can about olive oil (he was Elif’s family friend and Nilgün introduced him to the team). The average age of the olive oil professional is fairly old, and Mert was excited to begin learning so young. Anita Zachou, who brings a wealth of experience and a sophisticated palate, works with Mert to adjust mixing times, speeds, and temperatures. Mert is working towards being certified as a master miller.
Local villagers (60% are women!) harvest the olives and transport them to the central mill, thereby enhancing the local economy. Emine trained the villagers to handle the olives in a way that protects them, a necessity for making a high-quality product. For example, they use open harvest crates that limit the amount of time the olives can sit out before milling, so they can be processed within a few hours. “There is a learning process, but the work is enriching the community and giving them jobs. This is part of the Turkish people. There is a real motivation,” Emine says.
Emine and Mark are doing something that is many steps above the “norm” in terms of a Turkish food export. They have received very positive feedback from the professional community, the Chamber of Commerce, the agricultural commission, and the city government. Emine says those who learn about their project are “so very welcoming. Everybody is talking about our unique idea. They’re all excited.”
Mark adds: “Here we come in, and not only are we doing something different, but we are changing the whole concept.” They cold press olives (when olives are hot pressed, more oil can be extracted, but it’s often of a lower quality.) He continues: “They tasted the difference. There’s room for mass-processed olive oil. But there’s also room for very high-level olive oil.” They have been slowly educating locals through taste. Their goal is quality over yield.
And Emine says, “I’m bringing Milas out to the front of the world [through the lens of olive oil] and it’s amazing. I’m excited about introducing and bringing Turkish culture and this area to the world.”
Sustainability is a centerpiece of the project and they leave a minimal footprint. All the water on the farm and at the mill gets recycled. The “black water” (the water used in production) is returned to the soil. They don’t use chemicals or pesticides in the olive groves (and it appears the summer heat prevents any olive fly threats). The extraction process does not produce any kind of toxic waste. The only fertilizer they use is cow manure and they are working on official organic certification for 2024.
The olive paste that is leftover after milling is sold to other vendors, such as soap companies. Emine wants to investigate selling the paste to textile makers, as some labs are working on turning organic waste into threads for cloth. “There is a lot more research happening in universities that we are following because we want to be environmentally safe,” she says.
Oro di Milas extra virgin olive oil recently won over a dozen gold medals at international olive oil competitions. Being relatively new to the world of olive oil, they chose to have their oil tasted by professionals worldwide as a barometer to ensure they had achieved the supreme high quality for which they aimed.
What else is next for them? Mark says, “We want to invest time and effort and energy in programs that support women [in Türkiye and beyond], and we’re just getting our feet wet with the political and social environments we’re in. Young women in this region want to have careers, but there are still restrictions socially and religiously. This is a farming region. We’d love to involve women in milling and learning and growing with our program as we develop our business model.” They are also interested in making Oro di Milas an agrotourism destination. Lodging and olive oil education at the mill seems to be in their future!
Emine’s dedication and passion for olive oil and her homeland is the bedrock and cornerstone of the Oro di Milas project. Mark’s dedicated matches Emine’s and together (along with their incredible team) they are a force. We are proud to introduce Oro di Milas to the U.S. market and bring high-quality extra virgin olive oil from Türkiye to the world stage.
Complex and harmonious, Oro di Milas oil has an intense aroma of green olives and fresh cut grass. On the palate is green tomato leaf and green almond with a pleasant bitterness and spice. Rich in polyphenols and wonderful on poultry, fish, salad, and pasta!
Written by Tess Dunlap