Hands up how many of you use olive oil in your cooking? Olive oil is considered by far to be the best and healthiest oil due to its many properties. But do you actually know how olive oil is produced?
October is usually the time when olives are ripe, although it can vary, some ripen in December and January and some even later. It depends on the type of olive and the seasonal climatic conditions and cultivation techniques used.
As they mature the percentage of oil increases progressively and their water content gradually decreases. It is therefore important that the collection takes place at the appropriate time and with the most appropriate method.
There are many ways of collecting olives:
– You can wait for them to fall spontaneously in the nets spread on the ground but like all fruits olives detach from the tree when they are overly ripe so this leads to a quick deterioration and an increase of free acidity; and oil is more valuable when it is low in acidity as it is preserved from turning rancid.
– A very popular method is known as combing (the “pettinatura”) where the tree’s branches are being combed with big rakes which will cause detachment of the drupe and also of some of the leaves without affecting the structure of the tree. The olives will fall on sheets placed under the trees to facilitate their collection.
– the downhearting method (known as “abbacchiatura”) was widely used in the past. It consists of beating the branches of trees with big poles which will often lead to damage of the young twigs, responsible for fruiting the following year and of the breakage of more mature olives.
– The “scrollatura” consists of mechanical arms wrapped around the trunk or large branches of the olive tree which blandly beats them allowing the spontaneous fall of the fruit.
– Another similar way is by using small shakers shoulder-carried by the operators, which will cause lighter and more gentler vibrations compared to large mechanical shakers.
And finally the most traditional way of collecting olives is by hand-picking them like you see in these photos. My friend’s family produces olive oil; they live in the fabulous countryside of Abruzzo. The oil they produce is for their own consumption. Hand collection would be impractical and too costly for large companies who want to make a profit out of it but hand picking is so far the best way as you can select the best olives to keep and you can preserve their integrity. Therefore the final result is an oil of superior quality. I have tried their oil and its taste is just incredible!
Once the olives have been picked they need to be pressed as quickly as possible to avoid the enzymatic degradation of triglycerides (which leads to an increase of free acidity and to a greater tendency to rancidity).
After collection the olives are put into boxes and then stripped of their leaves before being washed.
The olives are then been pressed with mills or crushers for 20 minutes in order to achieve a smooth paste consistency.
Through the “kneading” the olive paste its then stirred to allow its separation from the oil. After separation (which can be carried out following different methods) the oil is filtered and then bottled.
Olive oil is best stored in dark glass bottles, because it is sensitive to light.
I am thanking Mr. Stephen P. Lewis for kindly supplying the olive harvesting photography.