30 Jun2008

Gorgeous Olive Wood…

by Marketman


Perhaps 7-8 years ago, I saw a stunning mortar and pestle made out of olive wood at a fancy schmancy olive oil purveyor at Grand Central Station in New York. It was gorgeous. Beautifully proportioned, wonderful grain, and the perfect weight for crushing herbs and spices. From outside the shop, I confidently decided I would acquire it. But inside the shop, I turned the piece over and was shocked by the US$90 price tag! It was very nice, but not US$90 nice. Somewhat crestfallen, I left the shop and filed this “goody” away into a section of my brain where other items of desire such a flat-screen television or healthy, a fruit-bearing dayap tree might lurk indefinitely. Olive wood is extremely hard and often possesses a wonderful grain. Not many folks outside the mediterranean appreciate this, in the same manner that not many Filipinos would mention mango wood as one of their favorites (rather kamagong, molave, narra, tindalo would be more likely mentioned first). Mango wood also has a beautiful grain, though in much bigger streaks of black on brown… So during our recent trip to Athens, I was hoping there would be stores selling items made from olive wood…


There are a few olive wood stores in the typical tourist guidebooks to Greece, and I visited some of them, thrilled to see several interesting products, but surprised that the prices were still quite high. But while walking around the Plaka, I saw this little shop that seemed chock full of olive wood and their prices seemed a bit more reasonable, with the mortar and pestle at roughly US$30 or 1/3 the price of the piece I saw in New York all those years ago… The owners were actually in the store and incredibly charming and engaging. Turns out they had just opened the shop 3 days before, and were still in the “honeymoon phase” and willing to go the extra mile to make customers very happy. We ended up with a mortar and pestle, several cutting/cheese boards, a half dozen honey sticks (some for pasalubongs), and a custom designed olive wood bracelet conceived by The Kid, and made on the spot by one of the owners of the shop. Olives are reputed to “give strength” so this bracelet will hopefully give the kid “strength”… And the best part of this olive wood expedition? They gave the bracelet to the kid as a present, since we bought so much at the store (a Greek buena mano, as it were)…


They explained that olive trees are almost NEVER cut down or felled. Instead, they wait for really old trees to get pruned every 25 or so years and these yield relatively “substantial” pieces of raw material. However, really large pieces are extremely rare, unless a whole tree trunk becomes available. Each piece is hand made and often irregular in size. Even chopping boards are made to maximize the quality of the grain and size of the piece of wood, rather than a standard chopping board size. I love all of them. :) These guys have several shops outside Athens, but this one was their first in the city.

Petros Koutsoglou
Olive Tree
67, Adrianou Street
Plaka District
+30 210 322 2922




  1. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful pieces!

    & Hello from Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia! :)

    Jun 30, 2008 | 11:37 am


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  3. Apicio says:

    Yes olive wood as your photos show is beautiful but it is also solid and close-grained (though wildly figured) which renders it food friendly as it takes willful neglect for it to absorb food odor unlike the sometimes similar looking spalted maple that is actually taken from deceased rotted trees.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 11:41 am

  4. A scientist in the kitchen says:

    That mortar and pestle certainly has personality, MM.


    Jun 30, 2008 | 12:03 pm

  5. quiapo says:

    The pieces are beautiful and the photos do justice to them. However they are meant to be used, and as such their finish will suffer. I wipe all new wooden utensils with grapeseed oil from France, which is edible and leaves a protective coating on the wood, as it is absorbed(preferable to using olive oil). They can be revitalized by regular addition of the oil. Chopping blocks particularly benefit from the treatment.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 12:35 pm

  6. brenda says:

    Would The Kid mind if you take a pic of the bracelet and post it here so we can see???

    Jun 30, 2008 | 12:56 pm

  7. Marketman says:

    brenda, by special request, photo now posted above. :) They are little beads of olive wood with “silver” accents in between.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 1:26 pm

  8. AleXena says:

    I never thought that we could make use of the mango tree’s trunk.

    The mortar and pestle looks very nice. I wonder if you make a pesto in the bowl, will it have additional olive taste in it?=)

    Jun 30, 2008 | 1:27 pm

  9. quiapo says:

    It may have been worthwhile to get some “komboloi” worry beads in tactile olive wood.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 1:29 pm

  10. kate says:

    i love the fact the no trees are cut down to make such beautiful items :) wish we can have the same mentality with our trees as well. (though, i am not very familiar with the pruning process and if it is possible here)

    Jun 30, 2008 | 2:37 pm

  11. linda says:

    Really gorgeous buys you got there,MM! I’m envious!

    Jun 30, 2008 | 3:10 pm

  12. mojito_drinker says:

    nice! count on mm to confirm what we already know about his great taste (pun intended) =)

    Jun 30, 2008 | 3:14 pm

  13. risa says:

    These are beautiful! They look like Italian marble!

    Jun 30, 2008 | 3:16 pm

  14. joe says:

    hi rebecca, just wondering if you are still in UB? are you a filipino?

    Jun 30, 2008 | 3:26 pm

  15. the husband says:

    I love wood! I like the feel of it, the color, the smell, everything! Given the chance, I wouldn’t mind being a carpenter. You’ve got excellent pieces. Beautiful!

    Jun 30, 2008 | 4:45 pm

  16. Lissa says:

    Hello MM, is there a particular reason why honey sticks are shaped the way they are? Does the shape serve some kind of special purpose?

    Jun 30, 2008 | 5:00 pm

  17. Marketman says:

    Lissa, honey sticks are shaped that way so that they can easily grab hold of honey then release it in a nice stream over whatever you are pouring it on. I suspect they also look like a beehive but that might be incidental… joe and rebecca, egads, now what are the chances of TWO filipinos being in ulaan bataar, Mongolia and reading the same post on Marketmanila??? Pretty high, apparently… now are there any lurkers from Greenland I don’t know about? quiapo, I did get a kolomboi, but not in olive wood. Maybe I will do a post on that as well.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 6:49 pm

  18. zena says:

    I’d probably buy 2 sets of mortar and pestle. One for using, the other for admiring. =) I love the bracelet. It’s beautiful. The darker patina makes it more elegant.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 6:53 pm

  19. Apicio says:

    OT though related to the expensive ingredient poll, here is an excellent read about saffron, comes in three parts, here is Part I:

    Jun 30, 2008 | 7:35 pm

  20. ChrisB says:

    Marketman, OT as well but what’s with the “toes” poll!? Did you have a revelation while watching exposed toes at the sandal store in Athens? =D hehe

    Jul 1, 2008 | 2:52 am

  21. Marketman says:

    ChrisB, post coming up on the toe poll, among others. Apicio, thanks for that link, it is very well written and very interesting… zena, I am not sure if the darker patina on these beads are natural, but they say the darker woods come from the older trees…

    Jul 1, 2008 | 7:41 am

  22. chinachix says:

    such gorgeous finds!

    Jul 1, 2008 | 7:44 am

  23. Emman says:

    Hello Marketman. I saw similar wood craft items from Turkey during last year’s Asian Arts and Crafts expo at SMX. I did not ask if they were of olive tree wood but the grain looks the same. Sayang, I did not buy even a single item because they were quite expensive. You should try to look for Philippine wood crafts of langka tree. The wood retains the scent of the langka.

    Jul 1, 2008 | 7:57 am

  24. Marketman says:

    Emman, actually, I have several pieces in langka wood, from a very old tree in my lola’s backyard that was cut a decade or more ago. I had 5 sungkaans made from it and another wooden piece…which reminds me… I should do a post on those sometime soon as well… Mango wood also makes beautiful bowls and other items…

    Jul 1, 2008 | 8:28 am

  25. quiapo says:

    The little side questions generat a lot of interest nad thinking. I wonder what the current quiz on “Greek Feet” is leading to? I particularly enjoyed the one on expensive food items, which I answered incorrectly. From that, Apicio’s recent web link above has been singularly entertaining and informative.
    Congratulations MM for such an interesting web blog that is becoming a community resource

    Jul 1, 2008 | 8:30 am

  26. Jenny says:

    The high price of olive wood items may be due to the fact that they don’t harvest the trees. Scarcity of raw materials you know.

    Jul 1, 2008 | 9:44 am

  27. zena says:

    In school, we learned that it is usual for the 2nd toe to be longer. It’s 2,1,3,4,5. Asian or otherwise. So MM, you are well in the norm.

    Jul 1, 2008 | 11:10 am

  28. Tommy says:

    The olive wood pestle and mortar is being sold in amazon.com for more or less the same price, along with other olive wood items. Your piece though looks absolutely more stunning compared to the picture they have.

    Jul 1, 2008 | 11:19 am

  29. jj says:

    hi. this is off the olive topic but just want to take a look at a new film by Jay Abello. An ilonggo film all about Ilonggo food. Namets!


    hope you and your family take a weekend vacation in Bacolod this Masskara… foodfest galore.

    Jul 1, 2008 | 6:18 pm

  30. Blaise says:

    I’d love to have pieces with character in my kitchen… someday..

    Jul 2, 2008 | 1:52 pm

  31. dhayL says:

    They’re beautiful, very special indeed!

    Jul 3, 2008 | 8:30 am

  32. brenda says:

    thanks….the bracelet looks beautiful!

    Jul 3, 2008 | 11:40 am

  33. Yuan says:

    Nice one EMMAN! please update us your cultural activity.

    Jul 3, 2008 | 12:56 pm

  34. moreno says:

    dears sirs,i read with interest your report of the trip in greece with – olive wood – . different price in different place makes everybody wonder why .! olive wood is a particular wood difficult to find in the proper conditions and even more difficult if you want to work with the roots of olive tree. olive tree old as 1000 — 2000 and more years are not easy to find , not easy to dry for 5 to 10 years naturally !!! all this processs take time and care and cost money if you do it properly !!! but the result are : – long lasting products — natural olive wood treated only ! with olive oil !!! — products will not break or change for many many years, for professional cook alike they are ready for a heavy dayly usage !!! the time you spend to craft the items in olive wood and the skill of the craftman give others beautifull results . to come to a conclusion i think it is not the price we have to look after when it come to olive wood products but quality , craftmanship , details , and in this respect —design + craftman skill — MADE IN ITALY MAKE A DIFFERENCE. VISIT MY SHOP FOR A GLANCE OF IT !!!! YOU WELCOME … PEACE MORENO

    Aug 12, 2008 | 1:55 am

  35. dhayL says:

    Just a quick question re: mortat and pestle. What would you recommend, wood or marble? thanks MM

    Aug 22, 2008 | 9:45 pm

  36. Heather says:

    My husband & I went to Athens this summer. We were looking for an olive wood bowl for my mom and were excited to find a little store called Olive Wood in the Plaka. The stores owner was very nice and she had some great bowls of various sizes that weren’t the symmetrical bowls we saw at several other stores. She said she has been there for around 13 years. We ended up buying a bowl for ourselves too because they were so unique. Before we left we got her picture and promised to email her, but we are still looking for her email address.

    Aug 30, 2008 | 8:57 pm

  37. udo says:

    hello and greetings from Austria (Europe)

    just stumbled upon this blog about the Olive wood as i was googeling for Molave…

    Olive wood (but also the oil) are pretty highly favoured – the wood because you are actually just cutting commercial unintersting trees, as the tree actually lives a very long time and gives Olives every year.
    For everyone who like strong grain in wood (just like Kamagong), Olive should be intersting. Im using several Olive wood boards for cutting and love them. I do have a Kamagong board therefore too but its nearly not to handle with one hand (2,5 inches thick!) and actually not the best wood to cut fresh vegetables on it.

    Something im looking for regarding these Philippine woods are pictures of the trees itself. Kamagon, Molave, Palayong, Yakal…
    in googleing these one doesnt really find any good pictures of these trees – anybody out who could help ?

    regards and all the best

    Apr 17, 2009 | 9:07 pm

  38. Marketman says:

    udo, sorry, I don’t have photos of a molave or kamagong tree…

    Apr 17, 2009 | 9:09 pm

  39. charles hargenrader says:

    I am somewhat confused as to the way people view prices.
    Should olive wood from another country be more expensive after it reaches the USA? I would hope so because it’s more difficult to aquire. I work alot with olive wood. It was one of the more expensive woods I work with. Why? Because they are alomost always never cut down. It would seem obvious that the price would be high. However…..What are people so shocked, even overwhelmed when it comes to spending more money on a piece of art, that will hopefully end up a family hairloom? Besides handcrafted pieces are far and few between today because many people do not understand the concept that if an item is handcrafted it has to cost more money so that the artist can eat too! I suggest if one wants a bargin show walmart. A starving artist

    Sep 9, 2009 | 12:06 am


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