Thursday, October 18
How olive oil is made
I took Dad for a walk in the mountains and we came across this lady sorting olives, ready for pressing while the rest of her family were picking from the trees nearby.
"It must be olive picking time, Dad. Let's go to La Selva and see if they need a hand."
We carefully climbed down the mountainside, through prickly pear cactus,and olive and carob trees heavy with fruits.Arriving at the house I called out but there was no answer, so we walked through the garden, calling hello. Finally we heard voices and headed towards them, ducking under olive nets that covered the path. We found the guys halfway up a tree, sawing off small branches while Marta, below, combed through the foliage collecting olives. A small donkey stood peacefully nearby and burrowed its way under the olive net to come and say hello to me.
I explained to Dad that these guys press their own olives, just once, producing extra virgin oil, and that in a good year they make enough oil to last them all year with extra to sell. The donkey had taken a liking to Dads arm, licking him enthusiastically, and after a couple of experimental bites instead of licks we decided it would be safer to leave. I had heard about a place in the hills above Sorrento where most people take their olives to be pressed, so we decided to go and see how olive oil is made...
Olives are seperated into different boxes: olives picked from the tree, and olives that have already fallen off into the nets that are laid out underneath the trees (aah, so that's what the olive nets are for!). Olive oil is called extra virgin when there is less than 0.8 acidity in the olives.
The olives are poured into a huge rambling machine, similar to Dr Seuss's Sneetches Star-off Machine, where they pass through a super powered vaccum-cleaner that sucks the leaves and dirt off them. They get sucked along a tube until they fall into a vat of water, where they are washed clean and sent on their way to the grinders:
The olives are crushed and ground into a paste by four seperate stone grinders and then go into a mixer where the paste is churned for about half an hour, helping the drops of oil to come together:
The paste is then pumped into a large decanter, a long cannister with a centrifugal system, like the spin cycle on a washing machine. The paste is spun around at high speed, causing the olive stones, flesh and skins (known as pomace) to be seperated from the oil and water. The oil and water are syphoned out of the decanter, naturally seperating as they go:
The oil then goes through a purifying process, and it's time to get your empty bottles under the tap at the end of the machine. But what's this? It looks like limoncello! No, this bright yellow liquid is real, freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil from the hills around the Amalfi Coast:
at 8:20 PM