Making Olive Oil
If you are familiar with the process of making wine, be prepared to switch gears because making olive oil is completely different. The best part is that you can pick olives in the morning, and then drizzle fresh, fruity, unctuous olive oil on your bread in the afternoon!
Picking Olives is time-consuming!
All Montemaggiore olives are picked by hand due to our steep mountainside, although we do have a special rake to help out. First we lay down large nets to catch the olives as they are gently tugged off the branches. Stakes hold up the nets on the downhill side so that we don't loose all the olives. Our pickers average about 20 lbs of olives an hour, which translates into about 3 (375ml) bottles of olive oil. With grapes, for example, one picker can harvest about 500 lbs of grapes an hour, which translates into about 360 (750ml) bottles of wine—but wine takes a lot more time and effort to ferment, press, and then barrel age!
Crushing, Malaxating, and Pressing
First we clean the olives by blowing off any leaves, and rinse them in water to get rid of any accumulated dirt. Then our hammer mill quickly crushes the olives (pits and all) into a paste. The hammer mill minimizes oxygen uptake by the olive paste, thus retaining the fresh, spicy, peppery notes in the olive oil. It's important at this point not to let any heat build up, otherwise the flavor of the olive oil will be negatively impacted.
Working in batches of about 400 lbs of crushed fruit, the olive paste undergoes malaxation for about an hour. The malaxator slowly mixes the paste, allowing the oil/water emulsion to coalesce. During this time, small microscopic oil droplets join together into larger drops—so that the oil can be separated from the water later. Finally the malaxated paste is spread on stainless steel mesh plates about the size of large pizza pans. The plates are stacked, then pressed together with a hydraulic press to extract the liquids (olive water and oil) from the solids.
Oil and Water don't mix
The final step in olive oil making separates the oil from the vegetable water using a centrifuge. At this point, perhaps only a couple hours after harvesting, the olive oil can be enjoyed—what a wonderful sensory experience! And what a difference from making wine, which requires many months of aging in oak barrels. Olive oil bottled soon after pressing (while it is still cloudy) is called Olio Nuovo, which has an amazing fresh, fruity aroma and flavor. Most of the olive oil we let rest for several months until the solids gravitate to the bottom, and the clear olive oil on top is bottled as a traditional extra virgin olive oil.