Friday, 26 October 2007

How olive oil is made

A perfect fruit is only the first step to a premium quality olive oil. It also needs of a careful production process that brings out all its qualities. We can distinguish four main stages in the olive oil preparation: fruit recollection, grinding and battering, pressing and, finally, pouring or “decanter”.

At the begging of winter, when the olives have reached their optimum ripeness, the recollection process starts. To protect the integrity and quality of the fruit, the methods used are delicate and precise. In some areas, they carry out this job practically handpicking the olives. The branches are softly caressed until the olives become loose. This system is known as “ordeño” in Spanish, due to the fact that it reminds of the way cows are milked. Other producers employ a technique called “vareo”, where the branches are hit with a long stick to make the olives fall off into a wide net placed on the floor surrounding the tree. In recent times, a machine consisting of a ring that embraces the trunk of the tree and shakes it has been introduced in this process, although some specialistS advise against it. They believe that it could damage the tree in the long run.

From the moment the olives have fallen off the tree, and to avoid deterioration, they need to be carefully stored and processed within 24 hours, at most. Therefore, they are rapidly taken to the oil mill, known as “almazara” or “molino” in Spanish, where they are washed to get rid of any particles such as clay, leaves or twigs. Shortly after, the olives are grinded using only mechanical procedures until a sort of dough is obtained, which will then be battered.

Once this second stage is completed, the dough is pressed so that the solids are retained and the liquids filtered. These liquids consist of a mixture of olive oil and a kind of water called “alpechín” which will need to be separated. This last phase known as “decantado” in Spanish, segregates the two types of liquids by their different density, so that when the mixture is poured into a recipient, the “alpechín” falls to the bottom and the oil stays above. The “alpechín” is extracted through a tap located at the lower part of the recipient. What is left inside is the exquisite liquid gold.

A good extra virgin olive oil retains all its flavours and taste for some twelve months, so it is always advisable to consume it within a year since the production date. After this period, the oil can still be used although it may have lost some of its tasting qualities. It is important to bear in mind that olive oil should be stored in a dry and airy place away from any direct source of light. Furthermore, it should not be placed too close to any other product of intense aroma, as olive oil tends to absorb the smell of anything that surrounds it.

For a fine selection of Spanish extra virgin olive oils please visit our Spanish food online store.


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