What is an almazara or olive oil mill

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In the heart of the Mediterranean, where ancient olive groves thrive under the sun-drenched skies, lies the soul of a timeless tradition: the almazara, or olive mill. As a standard-bearer of the region’s gastronomic heritage, the almazara stands as a testament to the art of olive oil production.

In this article, we embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of the almazara and explore the fascinating process by which olives are transformed into liquid gold throughout the centuries.

What is an almazara? Definition and translation

There isn’t a literal translation of the Spanish term «almazara» into English, as it originates from the Arabic term meaning «place where it is pressed or squeezed.» Over time, as olive oil gained increasing importance in Mediterranean culture, this term remained to designate olive oil mills or presses, rather than other grains and fruits that the Arabs squeezed.

Nowadays, an almazara is the place where olive oil is produced.

The impact of almazaras on Mediterranean culture

The almazara, deeply rooted in Mediterranean culture, traces its origins back to ancient civilizations that revered the olive tree as a symbol of abundance and prosperity. Historically, olive oil held immense cultural, religious, and economic importance, with its production centered around communal olive presses in ancient Greece and Rome. Evidence of its existence dates back to the Copper Age (between 3200 and 2200 BCE). Over the centuries, the art of olive oil extraction evolved, and the introduction of hydraulic presses during the Islamic Golden Age (between the 8th and 12th-13th centuries) marked a significant technological advancement.

During the Middle Ages, almazaras became hubs of agricultural activity in regions like Andalusia (Spain) and the Mediterranean basin, where Arab influence led to the refinement of olive oil production techniques. The proliferation of these oil mills in the Mediterranean landscape during this period facilitated widespread olive cultivation and the expansion of olive oil trade routes. As European exploration and colonization spread, almazaras played a crucial role in supplying olive oil to distant shores, further enhancing its global reputation as a coveted product.

In the modern era, olive oil presses have adapted to technological innovations while preserving traditional methods, ensuring the continuity of olive oil production practices.

Today, almazaras serve as symbols of heritage and craftsmanship, inviting visitors to witness the age-old tradition of olive oil production through a wide range of oleotourism activities. Learn more about What olive oil tourism is here.

The evolution of the almazara: Tradition vs. Technology

Throughout the centuries, the almazara has undergone a remarkable evolution, adapting to new times and technological advances while preserving its essence and production principles.

From its humble beginnings as a communal oil mill in ancient civilizations, oil was extracted by pressing the olive. Under the weight of a large stone, the fruit would fragment, releasing the oil inside. In those ancient civilizations, a kind of enormous stone mortar (over 2 meters tall) was used to press the “capachos” onto a flat stone. The “capacho” is the traditional basket made of rushes or wicker, used for carrying the olives and press them.

Later, almazaras using different methods emerged, such as edge stones, which rotated around a central post, or windmills or trujales (presses). The Greco-Romans were the precursors of the screw press, which was manually activated with a lever or powered by animals in larger ones.

During the medieval period, the almazara underwent significant changes with the introduction of hydraulic presses, which improved efficiency and productivity. This innovation revolutionized olive oil extraction, allowing for larger-scale production, greater accessibility, and expansion of trade routes.

Despite these innovations, the classic system of grinding, pressing, and decantation barely changed until the 20th century, with the incorporation of more impactful technological advances, such as the automatic centrifuge, which separates the oil from the water.

But what truly marked a definitive change in olive oil production was the automation of processes and the use of machines that allowed for continuous oil production without having to stop to prepare the mill for the next pressing. This modernization increased production and reduced costs, as well as leading to qualitative improvements in olive oil.

Where are the almazaras?

The vast majority of olive mills or oil presses worldwide are distributed around the Mediterranean basin, where olive cultivation is concentrated. You can read more about how olive oil production is distributed worldwide in our post: Where is the best olive oil tourism in the world?

Spain is the country with the highest production in the world (70% of the entire European Union), and especially the southern region, Andalusia, has the highest concentration of olive mills.

We can see a graph of the total volume of olive mills in Spain in 2023 divided by regions:

Graph or table of the number and distribution of olive oil mills or olive oil presses in Andalusia, Spain | Oliveo Escapes

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Government of Spain

The impact of olive oil tourism on olive mills

Obviously, adapting the olive mill or press to new production processes is more profitable and less tedious. Despite these innovations, many olive mills continue to apply ancestral techniques, combining modernity and tradition to produce an olive oil with incomparable flavor and distinction.

This is due to the rise of a new type of tourism, focused on olive oil. Olive oil tourism brings lovers of liquid gold closer to firsthand knowledge of how oil is cultivated and produced. Therefore, they maintain tradition as a tribute to their ancestors and the history that underpins the Mediterranean basin.

At Oliveo Escapes, we are olive oil lovers and would love to guide you through a fascinating journey of its traditions, nuances, and virtues. Discover our experiences here: Escapes

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