THE STORY OF AN OLIVE
We are all used to pouring oil onto our Greek salads but we don't generally give much thought to how it got there so I thought that this would be a good place to tell you about it. Crops vary enormously from year to year and the ratio of olives to oil but it is always a rewarding job whatever the final results!
The trees flower in spring and you can soon tell if the blossoms are going to result in olives. A heavy crop of flowers doesn't always mean a good crop of olives though, a lot can be lost along the way, depending on the weather very often.
These are trees which are well laden with olives. There are lots of different kinds but ours are mostly 'kalamo'which are the small olives used for oil.
Picking involves spreading nets or plastic woven sheeting under the tree and then combing the fruit bearing branches with big plastic combs in the first instance. There are now also motorized equivalents to the combs which are quite gentle on the trees.The higher branches tend to the get beaten with a stick so the olives fall onto the sheet.This actually causes damage to the trees so as little as possible is done like this. You can then get the chain saw out and prune at the same time which means the olives on the cut branches are dead easy to pick. Just beat them up and the olives fall off!!
The job of cleaning then starts. Ideally you need to get as many twigs and leaves out as possible. Again, there are now machines that help to do this but we don't have them. When our recently planted olive trees are bearing fruit we may well have to invest.
They are cleaned at the olive press but is is so satisfying to see them go through without rubbish in them.
Pruning and cleaning carries on among the most important part of the day which is the coffee break! Picking olives is hard, but rewarding work, but it is even more about people getting together to do it.
Getting out as many leaves as possible. I usually drop the olives from bucket from the a height and when it is windy it is a very good way of blowing the leaves out. This particular day the wind had dropped so Yiannis had the bright idea of creating a wind machine with pieces of polystyrene - it was quite effective!!
The prunings from the trees ready to be burnt.We also keep a couple of big bundles of the fine twigs to light the oven at Easter. The net result of all the work are bags of olives ready to be taken to the olive press. They need to go as soon as possible otherwise the oil turns bitter.
On to the olive press.
There are currently 3 olive presses on the island and we take ours to the nearest one. As you can see, when these photos were taken it was a good year and there were stacks of olives waiting in line to be processed. There is loosely a system where they write your name in a book and they call you when it is time to put your olives through otherwise you can be waiting hours. You are not necessarily going to get your turn as it is written though!
You unload your olives into the hopper and away they go!
They are first of all taken by conveyer belt where there is air blowing through at the top to get rid of the leaves and other debris.The speed at which they are processed at this stage depends on how well they have been cleaned. They are then washed with cold water.
As they pass through the washing stage they pass over a scale so you know how many kilos of olives you have. They then pass into large cylinders where a giant screw is rotating and crushing them. At the bottom of each cylinder there is a pipe which the resulting liquid runs into. During this process the olives are heated and it lasts until the mix has reached a certain temperature. Interestingly, the waste product is then used for firing the furnace for the heating process so nothing is wasted at all. Even the leaves which are removed from the olives during the cleaning are used as feed stuff for animals. What is left after that can be used as fertiliser once it has broken down.
The oil and water mix is that has come from the crushed olives is then passed through a large 'spin dryer' which separates the two and they can they be channelled to the appropriate places - the oil going to a further 'spin dryer' and the water for waste.
The oil is ready after its final spin and comes out warm and clean into a large sink and then is dispensed from a petrol pump fitting! You put it into containers, which you would nomally bring with you, and it is weighed. To pay for the pressing, you have a choice between paying in cash or giving a percentage of your oil. We always pay in cash as we will never be in the position to have too much oil for our own use.
You can taste the oil as soon as it comes through but whilst it gives you an idea of the quality, it can be quite bitter. It needs a few weeks to settle and then you can start pouring and enjoying it!