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:

11 comments:

  1. Great write up of how olive oil is made! My in laws make their own olive oil every year and it's exactly that same color. I am so fortunate to not have to buy it from the store as they are so generous by stocking me up for the year! :)

    That donkey photo is too funny!

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  2. Is the smell very strong? I remember visiting a traditional 'frantoio' in Calabria many years ago and I had to get out of there in a hurry!
    My mother prepares the most delicious olives I've ever tasted.

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  3. When I was in Sicily 2years ago it was olive picking time, my uncle Pino made the most amazing tasting olvie scatchati with garlic. They are the olives that fall to the ground and are green,they are then hammered broken skinned then soaked in water for a few days then dried and mixed with fresh olive oil and garlic . the taste is incredible.It takes about a week to infuse the flavorer's in bowl with just a tea towel over them on the counter.

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  4. Fine exposé Niki. Donkeys, Dr Seuss,...I think "Niki's Coast" would make an excellent family travel series on the BBC. Hope you got to bring home a bottle of that EVOO.

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  5. Lucy from Pickering and TorontoOctober 19, 2007 at 5:44 PM

    Olive oil, quell nightmare here in Toronto. Always looking for the specials. Wish I were in Italy where we could make our on on Uncle Pino's farm. Hi Nell.

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  6. yum, that last photo makes me want to dip some warm, crusty ciabatta bread in the extra "yellow" virgin olive oil :-)

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  7. hmm somehow it's going to be tough for me to go back to using Trader Joe's Olive Oil after reading your post.

    The good stuff is very, very pricey in the States.

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  8. That was a really intersting lesson.
    I'm a fan of good quality extra virgin olive oil & will pay a small fortune for it and i'd love to be able to get it that fresh

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  9. Excellent post. Wow, how I love good Italian olive oil. It really does pay dividends to buy the extra quality or just hunt down a local variety in the small local food stores scattered around Italy.

    I love cooking ... this posts makes me want to head to my local Sainsburies, pick up some Italian produce and make some bruschetta drizzled in olive oil followed by Melanzane alla Parmigiana or similar.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Lucy from Pickering and TorontoOctober 22, 2007 at 8:52 PM

    My sister in law (mangia cake and I say this nicely) came over on Sunday and as I was pouring the olive oil over my potatoes with garlic and onion to roast in the oven, she asked, "How do they make olive oil and what is the difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil?" I said "Let me put this in the oven and I'll let you read my favourite bloggster's blog! She explains as well as shows pictures." She was impressed!

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  11. Wonderful post. What I wouldn't give for some of that olive oil. I'm in the process of curing olives for the first time.

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