Thursday, 14 June 2012

Olive Oil Production

Olive oil production is quite fascinating. From the day that the olives are harvested they have two to three days weather dependant – brilliant sunshine gives less time, overcast a little bit more time – to process the olives. This is due to the fact that the longer it takes to process the olives the higher the acidity becomes. The olives arrive by truck, van, car and sometimes even donkey and cart at the factory.

 (Sacks are stored with the family name of the farmer to avoid confusion)

The olives are off loaded and stored on pallets waiting their turn to be crushed and pressed into green gold. 

 (Loved the reuse of the bags!)

Once they have reached the front of the queue they are poured out of their cosy sacks and the process starts. First they must enter the system, a conveyor belt of sorts is the first hurdle. This conveyor belt takes them from the outer factory in to the processing side at the same time it gives them their first bath separating the olives from the leaves.

The system spits the leaves out into a barn where they are collected to be used for other purposes.

The next machine in line scoops the olives up and using high pressured jets and a constant shaking motion washes them again, this time it’s to remove any bugs or dirt which may have decided to come along for the ride.

The freshly washed olives are then fed into what can only be described as a giant tapenade machine, which gently heats them up and crushes them. Quite literally making a murky coloured tapenade, this machine is also responsible for pressing the olives and then filtering any small flesh and pip particals out. 

The pip and pressed flesh is, like the leaves, spat out by the system into a rather large mound on the outside of the factory. Like the leaves nothing is wasted and this waste now has two uses.  One it is taken away as it still contains olive oil, another factory will now use it after further processing for products such a soap and detergents. Two the processing plant needs energy to heat up the giant tapenade machine so rather than using a huge amount of electricity to make this possible the waste is used as a fuel.

By the time it has reached the end of the system fluorescent green oil is pouring out. This will now be tested for acidity and stored in giant vats where it will settle and become transparent with a hint of green.

It can take some farmers two to three months to bring in all of their olives and process them into oil. Most will sell it to the processing factory who in turn sell it on to major buyers. Some farmers have ventured into business themselves and sell it directly to major food traders around the world.  The Sitia olive oil has been known to turn up in some pretty far flung places. My parents have found Sitian olive oil as far a field as a Norwegian skiing chalet surrounded by kilometres and kilometres of snow!

Over the last decade or so olive groves have been abandoned by their owners who have left in favour of life in the city, good jobs and easy money. However with everything that is going on within this sun blessed country, there has been a noticeable number of old abandoned olive groves being rejuvenated and brought back to production as people leave the cities in favour of a calmer, slower and more reliable country life.

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