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olive harvest

From olive on the tree to olive to the mill

There is much to say about harvest. There are also many farmers and therefore opinions about the best techniques. That's what makes it so interesting.


The basics: There are over 1500 different olive varieties in the world. These can be self-sterile or self-fertile. In the first case, there must be another species nearby in order to flower. In the spring an olive tree will bloom with small flowers. A cluster of 50/60 of these tiny flowers are transformed into an olive. If all goes well, the olive will ripen after the summer, in the autumn, or even in the winter. A young olive is green, a ripe olive turns black/purple. As a farmer, you can choose an ideal time to harvest. Green harvest meaning less oil but of higher quality in terms of health and a sharper and more bitter taste. Harvesting black/ripe meaning more oil with a sweeter taste but lower quality.

The farmers who go for extra virgin olive oil and quality opt for the early harvest.

Volume makers and traditional farmers often opt for the last ripe variety, even the olives that have fallen to the ground are included. They have often already started the fermentation process and that does not benefit the taste and quality.

Harvesting/picking can be done in different ways. Traditional and best for the tree is "milking". Milking is hand picking. Usually a fine mesh is placed under the tree where the olives will drop on top. After the olives are collected in crates or buckets. Newer is a mechanical vibrating stick that shakes the branches and the olives fall off.

Other techniques are "tree shakers"; that shake the trunk of the tree, whereby the tree is vibrated empty and the olives fall into a kind of umbrella. The most industrial variant is  a large harvester that drives over the specially pruned trees and vibrate the entire tree empty and suck the olives into big trucks. The last two we see more in the "intensive olive groves". Again it is about quality versus quantity. A hand picker may be able to pick a maximum of 200 kilos per day, a harvester can easily do 15,000 kilos in a day.


Then take as a rule that you can press between 10 and 20 liters of oil from 100 kilos. Add a man-hour rate of at least 5 euros per hour and you will realize that a liter of high-quality olive oil is quite expensive to make.

After picking, the olives are taken directly to the machines that convert the olives into olive juice, or olive oil. This first process is always mechanical and consists of a number of simple steps:

defoliating, washing, crushing, melaxing, decanting, centrifuging & filtering.  Pressing is actually a bit of an old term.

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