How Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made?

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Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), often referred to as liquid gold, has been treasured for centuries for its incomparable taste, health benefits, and cultural significance. At Oliveo Escapes, we invite you to embark on a journey to discover the fascinating production process of olive oil, from the birth of the olive on the tree to the explosion of flavor on your palate.

As we mentioned in our previous post: What is an “almazara”? The traditional olive oil mill, the process of extracting olive oil has barely changed over the centuries, although in recent years, technologies and machinery have emerged to automate the process and produce on a large scale. This has allowed the liquid gold to be taken all over the world.

Although the extraction method affects the taste and final quality of olive oil and therefore ultimately depends on each producer, we will tell you how extra virgin olive oil of the highest quality is traditionally produced with new technologies.

1. Harvesting: the essence of timing and care

Olive grove in Andalusia, Spain. Ecotourism and olive oil tourism | Oliveo Escapes

The olive is born from the olive tree. This tree requires specific climatic conditions for its growth, which are primarily found around the Mediterranean Sea. You can see here where olive oil production is concentrated . Specifically, Spain has optimal conditions for olive cultivation and oil quality.

Olives can live between 150 and 2000 years, but their peak productive period occurs between 35 and 150 years. While olive trees require considerable care, the olives themselves require even more attention. The optimal time for olive harvesting varies depending on factors such as variety, climate, and maturity, but it typically occurs between October and January.

The harvesting of olives is an art in itself, requiring precise timing and meticulous care. In the past, harvesting was done by hand, which was arduous work. Nowadays, the two most commonly used methods are:

  • «Vareo«, which comes from the Spanish term «vara» or long wooden stick used to strike the trunk and branches of olive trees to make the olives fall without damaging them. This method is increasingly being replaced by the use of machines.
  • Vareadores mecánicos” (Mechanical shakers) which apply the same principle as hand vareo. Typically, these are tractors or machines that hold the olive tree trunk and apply vibration to the entire tree. This method is more effective and faster than hand vareo.
 

Underneath the olive trees, large cloths or plastic sheets are placed to collect the olives that fall from the trees. Modern machines also incorporate these cloths directly to streamline the transition between trees.

2. From orchard to mill: the journey begins

Harvesting olives in boxes for making olive oil at the mill | Oliveo Escapes

Once harvested, the olives begin their journey from the orchard to the olive mill. Speed is essential to preserve the freshness and quality of the fruit, as olives can deteriorate quickly if left too long before processing. Therefore, olive mills or oil mills are usually located near the olive groves.

Whether during harvesting or upon arrival at the olive mill, the olives are sorted based on their variety and quality. They then go through a screening phase to remove leaves and adhered residues, followed by washing to eliminate all remaining impurities.

To determine exactly how many kilograms/pounds of olives are needed to produce 1 liter of oil, many factors need to be considered, such as variety, climate, and harvesting method. But typically, it takes between 4 and 5 kilograms of olives (8 to 11 pounds) to obtain 1 liter of the finest oil.

3. Crushing: extracting the essence of olives

Olive oil mill or press with stone wheel crushing olives | Oliveo Escapes

After washing, the olives are crushed to release their precious juices. This process, known as crushing or milling, breaks the cellular structure of the olives and allows the oil to be separated from the pulp.

Traditionally, olives were crushed using large stones with grooves that broke the fruits. These stones were moved by the wind or the action of animals.

After crushing, the olive paste undergoes malaxation, a crucial stage in olive oil production. During malaxation, the paste is gently kneaded or mixed to facilitate the coalescence of oil droplets and improve the extraction process.

The resulting paste is placed on capachos, or traditional flat and usually round wicker baskets, to allow it to rest before pressing.

The crushing of the olives should ideally be done on the same day the olives arrive at the mill or within the first 24 hours to avoid oxidation and fermentation.

4. Pressing: transforming olives into liquid gold

Olive oil press. Capachos and olive pomace | Oliveo Escapes

Pressing is the final step in extracting olive oil from the paste, which is done by applying high pressure. In this phase, the solid part of the olive paste is separated from the liquid, which consists of two elements: oil and olive pomace or “alpechín” (definition: Dark and foul-smelling liquid that comes out of the olives when they are stacked before milling, and when, during oil extraction, they are squeezed).

But by the end of the 20th century, the mechanical centrifuge was introduced, which separates the 3 elements: solid residue, olive pomace, and oil through centrifugation.

Boiling water is typically used in pressing and centrifugation to facilitate the separation of the oil. Although now separated from the rest of the elements, the oil remains mixed due to the agitation of the process. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is finally isolated in the following phase:

5. Decantation: finally, the pure oil

Decantation of extra virgin olive oil at the mill | Oliveo Escapes

It’s ironic that after the rush to transport and start processing, now time is needed to obtain the liquid gold. Through decantation, the oil separates from the water. Decantation is a natural process by which different liquids are separated based on their density. Thus, the oil, being denser than water, will settle at the bottom, with heavier residues settling even further down. These are usually separated by transferring the water from one vessel to another.

In modern olive mills or oil mills, separation is also achieved through centrifugation.

6. Quality control and storage: preserving the nuances

Bottles of olive oil of different varieties | Oliveo Escapes
Bottles of olive oil of different varieties | Oliveo Escapes

Once pressed and filtered, extra virgin olive oil undergoes the relevant quality controls according to current regulations and the highest quality standards.

Subsequently, it is bottled and carefully stored in the same olive mill in tanks or barrels, or bottled directly, at a controlled temperature to preserve its freshness, flavor, and nutritional value. As you know, this varies depending on the type of olive oil.

From the olive groves to the mill, the journey of olive oil production is a testament to the timeless art and dedication of olive growers and producers. At Oliveo Escapes, we invite you to firsthand experience the rich heritage and exquisite flavors of olive oil. Contact us without obligation, and we will provide you with information.

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