Any time from November to early March in Andalucia means it’s time to pick and crush olives. The date for this depends on several factors. The weather for a start, and how it has allowed the olives to grow and mature.
Some people like to pick their olives very early, when they are still smaller and green. This will give a lower yield of olive oil but of a very high quality. Think of those amazing tasting and expensive olive oils you can find in specialist shops. It’s wonderful for eating “raw” – which means in salads or as a dip – but not suitable really for cooking with. It can be hard to find a mill open to deal with the olives so early on on the season, at least it is where we live.
There’s also usually a minimum quantity that you can mill (about 250kg) so it’s not really an option to mill some early and then more later on in the season. At the other end of the calendar you have the folk who pick late when the olives are fat and dark. You’ll get a much higher yield of oil but it will have a much less distinctive taste. A good all rounder but with no particularly distinctive flavour. Fine for eating raw, great for cooking. Much of the oil we all buy in supermarkets will be this type. Round here the olives are sold to the co-operatives and everyone benefits from the profit of the sale of the olives and/or oil.
In the middle are people like us. Many who have enough trees to provide them and their families with oil for the year. The olives are picked when they are green/black. You get a good yield of oil with a wonderful flavour which will become more gentle as the year goes on and whatever is left from the year before becomes your oil for cooking.
Now, I won’t lie to you and say that Big Man and I participate in the picking. Although Big Man has done in the past. Like many others we come to an arrangement with neighbours who don’t have trees or land of their own. We provide the trees and look after them during the year. They pick the olives. We all take them to be milled and then divide the spoils. Perfect!
This year from our 30 trees (although sometimes when we count we get to 29 or 31, we can’t seem to agree) a fantastic 1732 kg of olives were collected. Last year was not a good year, and next year will probably not be as good as this one. That’s the way it goes with olives, up and down. That means about 60kg of olives from each tree and am almost 19% yield for any of you who love numbers like me! And no sprays or pesticides. Rain water and chicken poo are all our olives get to see them through the year.
In the past we’ve headed down to the coast to an old mill which cold stone presses the olives. The old boy who runs it is now winding things down, so unless you’re super organised and have made an appointment weeks in advance, it’s not practical now to use his mill. A shame.
But, nil desperandum. A neighbour’s son and his wife decided 2 years ago to set up a little mill just a few km from us next to our local village. It’s up a very inconvenient wiggly track but the views are amazing! They mostly bought second hand machinery, which I like the thought of, and the very effective little mill serves the locals like us for a few months a year when we want to mill our own olives and enjoy our own oil.
Yesterday was the big day, and the whole process took about 5 hours (one of which was spent fixing a little breakdown). Ever prepared for such an emergency, we had bought beers, soft drinks and tapas so no one minded waiting. We ended up with an amazing 320 litres of fantastic oil to be split 2 ways. Mostly it gets put into 25 litre containers but you can also buy smaller 5 litre ones. We made sure we filled some smaller ones to load into the car for when we head back to England in a couple of weeks.
I wish I could share the flavour and the incredible smell with you, but alas the technology doesn’t exist…yet!
What’s my favourite way to use our oil – very simple, the best breakfast in the world (well, apart from a Full English)!
If you’d like to see how we crushed the oil the “old” way, take a look at this post from a few years back.