THE OLIVE TREE
The olive tree (Olea Europea), traces its origins back to Eastern Mediterranean countries and the Middle East. It is believed that the first olive trees were planted by the Semite-Hamitic tribes which inhabited the southern slopes of the Caucasus, the Western Iranian plateaus, Syria and Palestine. From there, the cultivation of the olive tree expanded to Egypt and, later, to the Greek islands, in particular to Cyprus, Rhodes and Crete in the Mediterranean, the history of both mankind and the olive tree go hand in hand. Besides being the most important tree, in the Mediterranean, it has come to symbolize this area. The climate which is most suited to growing olive trees is that of the temperate zone, between the 30 and 45 northern parallel and the corresponding belt located in the southern hemisphere. A characteristic of the olive tree is that it must be subjected to a certain degree of cold during the winter months, otherwise it will neither flower nor bear fruit. Olive trees may reach a height ranging between 10-13 meters. The tree is very resistant and stands up well to humidity. If, for some reason, the trunk should die, the tree is able to regenerate itself into a new plant which grows at the roots. The olive tree lives for a great number of years; some have lived for more than 1,000 years.
HARVESTING THE OLIVES
1. Traditional Harvesting Methods
There are two traditional methods of harvesting the olives. The first, is known as the “brucatura” in which the olives are hand-picked using ladders to reach the higher branches. The other method is that which either leaves the olives to fall to the ground either by letting them ripen and fall off the branches or by shaking the trunk or by striking it with bamboo canes causing the ripe olives to fall to the ground. Large nets are laid out below the tree in order to facilitate gathering the olives. The so called “brucatura” method represents the ideal way of harvesting the olives because the olives are picked when they are mature and they haven’t been bruised by falling to the ground. However, this is a very time-consuming and costly method. In fact, in an hour, a picker is only able to harvest 5-6 kg. of olives.
The “raccattatura” method (letting the olives fall naturally to the ground) is the poorest method in that the olives which fall to the ground are usually those which are over-ripe and once they hit the ground they bruise and begin to rapidly deteriorate, resulting in a poor quality olive oil.
2. Mechanical Harvesting Methods
These methods have been introduced mainly in an attempt to lower production costs.
Both the “brucatura” method and the “raccattatura” method (picking up the olives from the ground after having shaken the tree), can be mechanized. One way is by using “combing” machines, which pass large-toothed blades through the branches, literally combing the tree, together with suction equipment which sucks up the olives from the ground and shoots them with a jet of air into the bin. The more sophisticated vacuum equipment separates the leaves and twigs from the olives. However, the most interesting piece of equipment is the “vibrating” harvesting machines. This machine has a long arm which clamps around the trunk of the tree and shakes the tree. In order to facilitate the picking of the olives and to avoid having them fall to the ground and bruise, a sort of upside-down umbrella is placed under the tree. The olives are then sucked up from the umbrella, separated from the leaves and are loaded in trucks to be taken to the olive mill to be pressed This type of equipment is operated by one man and is able to pick 5 q.li (555500 kg.) in 1 hour. The advantage of this machine is enormous, and with the new series of machines the fear of ruining the root system of the tree by repeatedly vibrating the trunks has disappeared. Obviously, the use of this machine becomes more cost-efficient when the olive grove lends itself to this mechanical means of harvesting. However, the quality of the olives is not the same as when the olives are hand—picked because the machine isn’t able to select the mature olives from those which are under or over ripe. On the other hand, the use of this type of machine yields a better product than that obtained by letting the mature olives fall to the ground.
TRANSPORTING THE HARVESTED OLIVES
The way in which the olives are transported to the olive mill is very important. Bruising and crushing of the olives must be avoided by placing them in low wooden crates and not in sacks (whether plastic or burlap). This is important because the crates allow air to circulate. Lastly, the olives should never be loaded freely into the back of a truck as the weight of the olives will crush those on the bottom yielding a poorer quality olive oil.
PRODUCING OLIVE OIL – Preliminary Phases
1. Storing the Olives
Usually, the olives aren’t crushed right away mainly because it takes longer to crush the olives than to pick them and this creates a back-log. This is a very delicate moment due to the fact that if the olives are not stored properly, the resulting quality of the olive oil produced would be poor due to the increased acidity of the bruised fruit. The olives,
therefore, must be layered no more than 10-12 cm. high in wooden crates. If the storage area isn’t large enough, the crates should be stacked leaving ample room between each crate in order to allow air to circulate and to avoid crushing the olives. The temperature in the storage area should not be more than 1C. Moreover, even in ideal conditions, the olives should not be stored for more than one week. Olives which are very ripe or that have been damaged or bruised must be crushed within a couple of days, at the most.
2. Preparation and Washing of the Olives
The olives are prepared for crushing by first separating the leaves and twigs from the olives and then by rinsing them in cold water in order to rid them of any dirt. This procedure must be carried out immediately before the oil is extracted from the olives.
PRODUCING OLIVE OIL – Extraction
The age old process of extracting the oil from the olives is comprised of separate stages: the crushing stage, the kneading or mixing stage, and the extraction stage. While the crushing and the kneading or mixing stages are carried out the same way as has been done for centuries, the extraction stage may be carried out in several ways. It is crucial, however, that the capacity of all the equipment is such that the process is carried out harmoniously with no delays and without leaving the semi-finished product for long periods. In fact, the olive paste is even more delicate than the olives and is subject to undergo changes which will compromise the quality of the final product.
1. The Crushing Stage
This stage consists in crushing both the pulp and the pits of the olives, which can be done by either traditional granite stones or by more modern mechanical stainless steel hammers. In order to speed up the process, the use of mechanical hammers was introduced; however, the traditional granite stones are still preferred because they yield a better olive paste mainly because the crushing action is not as aggressive as the mechanical hammers and the olive paste doesn’t undergo excessive heating which would compromise the flavor of the oil. The crushed olives pits are important in that they act as a draining material and ease the separation of the liquid part of the paste from the solid part, which is called sansa or pomace.
2. The Kneading or Mixing Stage
This stage consists in the delicate remixing of the olive paste, in order to facilitate the next stage, that of the extraction of the olive oil, by breaking up the beads of oil and vegetable water which are formed during crushing. In some cases, the olive paste is heated by adding hot water.
3. The Extraction Stage
This stage permits the separation of three components from the olive paste: the oil, the sansa (pomace) and the vegetal water contained in the olives.
1. Traditional extraction by pressure (First Cold Pressed/Cold Production)
This is the oldest existing method and today this is carried out by using hydraulic presses.
The olive paste is spread on round vegetable fiber mats (usually coconut fiber) with a hole in the middle. In Italian these are called “fistoli”. The mats are spread with about 3 cm. of paste and are piled one on top of the other and placed on a cylindrical column. A stainless steel disc is inserted every three mats in order to guarantee uniform pressure. The column of “fistoli” is then placed under the hydraulic press. The pressed oil passes through the holes in the stainless steel disc, and is collected in a stainless steel tub. The olive paste is gently pressed in order to avoid heating. Once the oil has been pressed, the small amount of vegetal water left in the oil must be removed by centrifugal force. The residue of the olive paste which remains on the fiber mats undergoes a second mixing and pressing at a higher pressure in order to squeeze all of the oil out of the paste. However, the olive paste usually undergoes only one pressing because the second pressing is too costly.
2. Semi-automatic forced pressure system
With this system the olive paste is placed in a special machine which separates the broken pits from the paste. Special cylindrical containers are then filled with alternating layers of olive paste, and crushed olive pits which allow the oil to drain through. These containers are then placed under the press. The pressure exerted with this system is approximately five times that of the previous traditional method and is therefore much faster.
3. Continuous method by centrifugal force
With this system, the mixing machine continuously feeds the separator by adding water to the paste. The separator, using centrifugal force, separates the vegetal water/oil mixture from the pomace. The vegetal water/oil mixture undergoes a further spinning in order to separate the oil from the vegetal water and the small particles of olive pulp. The major advantage of this method with respect to the traditional first-cold pressed method is considerable savings in labor costs.
4. Sinolea Method
This is also a continuous method with a slight difference with regards to the previous one; the olive paste is not diluted with water and therefore, its organolectic properties remain intact. The separation of the oil from the vegetal water is carried out by using the different physical properties of both these liquids. This method doesn’t compromise the characteristics of the oil and has a lower consumption than the other method. However, the quantity of oil obtained is lower than that obtained by other methods.
THE PRODUCTION OF OLIVE OIL – Final Stage
The oil which is obtained from the paste must be filtered in order to get rid of any small particles of pulp and vegetal water which is a natural component of the olive. This is done by decanting the oil and transferring it to clean stainless steel tanks. Once it was necessary to transfer the oil three or four times in order to obtain a clear oil. Nowadays, with the aid of the centrifugal separator, the oil needs to be transferred only once. The filtered oil isn’t necessarily transparent, in fact, a characteristic of the more prized oils is the opaque color.
Traditionally the olive oil was stored in terracotta jars which were enameled on the inside. These jars were called “orci”. Today, almost all large bottlers use stainless steel tanks which are much easier to clean and tend to block out more light which can be detrimental to the olive oil causing it to go rancid. Olive oil has a shelf life of 18-24 months as long as it is protected from direct light and temperatures which are either extremely high or extremely low. The ideal temperature for olive oil is around 14-15 C.
The best containers of olive oil are those made of either colored or transparent glass and aluminum or stainless steel tins. Out of these, the bet choice is probably glass as it satisfies both hygienic needs as well as those pertaining to the marketing and selling of the product because it is important that the potential customer can see the olive oil through the glass bottle.
THE AREAS OF PRODUCTION:
Our Colavita “Green Label,” The Premium Selection line, is produced from extra virgin olive oils from Italy, with the addition of selected oils from Europe, in particular, Greece and Spain, where the olive oil culture has a strong tradition combined with innovative techniques for cultivation, selection, and milling.
Our Colavita “Black Label,” The Premium Italian line, is produced exclusively from olives grown and harvested in Italy. The Black Label items are “100% Certified Italian” by a third party organization and captures the best olive oil Italy has to offer.
Our Colavita “World Selection” Extra Virgin Olive Oils are oils carefully selected from distinct countries of origin: Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Greece, Australia, and United States, (California) to represent the best olive oils those producing nations have to offer.
THE TYPES OF OLIVE OIL
By law, olive oil may be classified as follows, each representing a different processing method:
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the result of the simple crushing of the olives which have been washed and separated from the leaves. This is by far the best product offering the widest range of perfect flavors and aromas with a maximum acidity of 1% (1 gram/100g of free oleic acid). Extra Virgin Olive Oil must meet the highest standards of flavor and aroma.
2. Virgin Olive Oil results from pressing olives which are over-ripe or have been bruised, and therefore have a high acidity, ranging from 1% to 4%. This type of oil has not been treated chemically.
3. Ordinary Olive Oil (sometimes know as “Pure”) is a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil. Refined olive oil is an oil which has undergone chemical manipulation in order to render it fit for human consumption. This is blended with some virgin olive oil (usually 10%).
4. Olive Pomace Oil: The olive paste, which is left after the oil has been removed, still contains a small amount of oil which is extracted by using chemical solvents. The resulting oil, after having been treated to remove any chemical residue, is then blended with virgin olive oil.
Difference between filtered and unfiltered oils
Extra virgin olive oil may be consumed either in a filtered or unfiltered state. Filtration is the process by which the microscopic bits of the fruit of the olive are removed from the oil. Unfiltered oil will be cloudy until it settles to the bottom. Some consider unfiltered oil superior because of the added flavor from the fruit, while others say it shortens the oil’s shelf life. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference.
Are all extra virgin olive oils the same?
Extra Virgin olive oils are not all the same. Like wines, extra virgin olive oils can vary dramatically in taste, depending upon the type and quality of the fruit that is pressed, the time of harvest, the weather during the growing season, and the region from which the olives were produced.
Connoisseurs generally use the following adjectives in appraising extra virgin olive oils: mild, semi-fruity and fruity depending on the flavor of the olive that can be detected. Further, some oils, such as the finer oils from Tuscany and Southern Italy, have a peppery finish that many appreciate. COLAVITA is proud that its extra virgin olive oil is the choice of many of the finest chefs – both in restaurants and in home kitchens around the United States.