Harvesting Olive Trees
Harvesting olive trees may begin as early as late August and will continue through November depending upon the region, variety and desired ripeness. They are picked for both eating and processing into oil, so the degree of ripeness is important and a factor in the timing of harvest.
All olives start out green (least ripe) and then gradually become rosy (ripe) and finally turn black (very ripe). Thus, depending upon the type of oil the grower is making, a combination of all three may be used for pressing.
Hand or Mechanical Harvesting
Traditionally, picking olives is done by hand, even in commercial groves. However, more growers are using modern machinery to help them harvest the crop, particularly for the largest orchards. At the simplest level, this may only mean using a long handled, vibrating tong to shake the olives from the branches and onto nets spread out under the tree. For harvesting greater volume, a little more high tech method involves tractors drawing shakers behind them or other grape harvesting machinery used in high density orchards.
Curing Harvested Olives
Curing olives is essential to the process of making them tasty to enjoy because olives straight off of the tree are very bitter to eat. While there are many different curing methods used around the world, the curing process in California is unique.
Canning Harvested Olives
Most cured olives are canned in a mild salt-brine solution, and because they are a low-acid product, they are also heat sterilized under strict California State health rules. In addition, they are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to ensure consistent quality, color, flavor, and texture. Canned olives are offered in a variety of convenient forms including: whole, pitted, sliced, chopped, or wedged.
Olive oil manufacturing process
1. Transported: The harvested olives are transported to the oil plant, which is the processing plant where the oil is produced.
2. Cleaning and washing: Upon reaching the oil mill, the olives are cleaned to remove any residue.
3. Grinding and beating: To obtain the oil, the olive must first be ground to make a paste. The paste is sent to a mixing blender that homogenizes it to facilitate the pooling of the oil. When the churning temperature stays below 27 degrees Celsiu, it is called “cold-press” production and can thus be indicated on the labels of extra-virgin olive oils.
4. Extraction: The most widely used system in the oil mills for oil extraction is known as the continuous system. A machine called a decanter separates the oil through centrifugation from the vegetable water and solid waste present in the pulp (flesh and bone). The resulting oil is sent to a vertical centrifuge where the suspended particles are removed..
5. Storage: The virgin olive oil is stored in tanks until it is bottled. It must be kept at a constant temperature between 15 and 18°C, and protected from light to keep all its properties intact.
6. Filtration: The oil is usually filtered before bottling to remove moisture and organic matter in suspension. However, virgin olive oil can be bottled without being filtered. In this case, it is called “crude oil”.
7. Bottling: The oil can be bottled in different types of recipients (glass, plastics, metal, etc). It is very important to protect the olive oil from heat, direct sunlight, and air to protect all its properties.
Why Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Expensive
- When producing a premium product, quality trumps quantity and comes at a cost.
- Harvesting and processing require precise coordination to extract the freshest juice.
- It takes nine to 11 kilograms of olive fruit — which is the yield of more than one tree — to produce one kilogram of olive oil.
- Last but not least olives are more difficult to harvest than other types of crops.
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