Yes, after what seems to be a very long wait, we crushed our olives this weekend. It was actually 14 months since we last crushed as we had very little rain in the autumn of 2011 (as opposed to lots in the autumn of 2010) so we left the olives on the trees for as long as possible to let them fatten up. Of course, you lose some, but we like that it acts as fertiliser for the soil in our little olive grove. We´d rather have a few litres less oil but of a higher quality.
So, first you pick by knocking the olives to the ground into the waiting nets. I was excused this backbreaking duty but Big Man asked me to tell you all that it´s hard, hard work on the arms and your back. I do feel sorry for him, his poor muscles are still aching.
Load the olives into trailers and marvel at the variety of beautiful colours.
Now head off to a small local mill where they still stone crush (as opposed to using stainless steel crushers) and cold press (not heating to remove impurities) and don´t filter. We want the pure stuff in our house, and our olives have only been “treated” with rainwater and chicken poo (ok, we won´t dwell too much on that).
Tip them into the hopper.
Then up the ramp they travel and into the blower which removes leaves and twigs. They are weighed after this when “clean”. We had 964kg this year, about 20kg more than last year which surprised us.
Now the fun bit – into the press where they are squashed between the enormous old stones. The smell at this point inside the mill is heady and intoxicating – freshly crushed olives coming at you from all directions. It´s enough to make you sneeze.
Then into a tank for a little rest and finally out and into your waiting containers. This year we got an amazing 235 litres of liquid gold which we split with the couple who help us pick them – 55 litres more than last year and an amazingly high ratio of oil to olives (a yield of about 24% when most people round here are currently getting 18 or 19%). So, it was worth the wait, and a good year for our olives.
Much of it will be consumed at home – we use it for everything in the kitchen. Some will be given away, and some will be carried over for another year when the yield is lower.
Of course, the most important thing, what did it taste like? Amazing! It´s still cloudy and green and tastes peppery and fresh with no acidity. This is how I like it best. Over the next few months the oil will gradually settle and turn a golden colour and take on a softer taste. I´d love to send you all a little sample to dip some fresh crusty bread into, but if you´re ever round these parts, we´ll make sure to give you a taste.