The Process of making Olive Oil
If you are familiar with the process of making wine, be prepared to switch gears because olive oil is completely different! In November 2008, we harvested about 2,500 lbs of olives over three days (which is no easy feat given our steep hillsides), yielding about 35 gallons of olive oil.
In general, the olives we pick on one day, are made into olive oil the next day. We first clean the olives by blowing off any leaves, and rinse them in water to get rid of any accumulated dirt. Then our mill crushes or grinds the olives, pits and all, into a paste. It's important at this point that to not let any heat build up, otherwise their flavor will be impacted.
Working in batches of about 400 lbs of crushed fruit, the olive paste undergoes malaxation for about an hour. Malaxation inolves a slow mixing of 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. Then 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.
Finally, a centrifuge separates the oil from the water. At this point, perhaps only a couple hours after harvesting, the olive oil can be tasted—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. Or it can 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.