Last week we took our olives to be pressed at the local ‘Lagar de Azeite’ and finally got to taste the result of all our hard work. The mill we use is now 73 years old and this year was a little different to last time round. Things have changed as the owner has recently installed new machinery, I have to say I preferred the old fashioned process on a number of levels, but so is life!
The new machinery means fewer employees, but sadly it is slower and because all of the pressing takes place inside the machines, there is nothing to see, which takes the fun out of the experience… Some of the pictures I have shared here are of the process as it used to be.
At our mill you turn up with your sacks of olives and wait your turn. It is generally advisable to prepare for a day out. A cool box with refreshments is a great idea; take a book, perhaps two. The two customers in front of me had so many olives that they arrived in multiple vehicles… tractors, trucks, car boots and so on. I knew it was going to be a long day!
First your olives are weighed. This year we weighed in at just over 419 kilos of olives. The olives are tipped onto a conveyor belt and dropped into a cold water rinse, similar to a washing machine drum.
Following this first wash they disappeared into the machine and that was the last time I saw them in one piece!
The olives get a second, hot water wash before being pulped into an olive paste for pressing. In the old process, this paste was then pressed for oil using large, hessian type mats and the extracted oil appeared dark, much like a muddy puddle. The oil and remaining water was put through a sieve to remove any remaining solid matter – (mostly crushed olive pips) and the floating oil was then separated from the water below via two separate pipes. The last part of the process is to separate the last of the water from your precious oil using centrifugal force.
In this part of Portugal, providing you have a minimum of 300 kilos of olives, your oil is pressed separately and you can have your very own oil from your very own trees. This is very important to me. My trees are never sprayed with any chemicals and there is a real satisfaction in seeing your own, beautiful, warm golden oil trickle out into the collection vat below.
The mill is hot and humid, it is essential to walk carefully as the oil is heavy in the air and the floors can be slippery! The smell is like nothing else, it is simply wonderful.
The hours that go into picking your olives, separating the leaves and bagging them, pruning the trees, transporting your olives to the mill and the long wait at the end make this oil very precious indeed. As I said in my previous post I prefer not to count the hours. There is a reason I call it liquid gold and it’s not just the colour!
But you cannot buy this stuff in shops; it is worlds apart from any oil I have ever bought in the supermarket. That first taste of freshly baked bread dipped into your own warm oil, when you finally get home from the mill is pure, blissful magic.