Origins: Olive Oil

There’s rarely a kitchen without it! Olive Oil. Great to cook with, great for your skin, really good for your hair and I’m surprised Cleopatra didn’t have a bath in it! A few months ago I was in Mendoza, Argentina sampling their greatest produce across several vineyards when I was given the chance to go and visit a local olive oil producer. Now most of us attribute olive oil to the Mediterranean without a second thought to the possibility that all the way on the other side of the world there is a place producing some very high quality oil! After all, a place that’s good to grow wine, has the weather to grow olives! Whilst my visit to the factory, a small producer  in the foothills of the Andes, was during off-production period, it was fascinating to see, nonetheless, how the worlds most popular oil is produced.

The producer
Basking in the Andean sun

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If you’ve never tasted an olive fresh off the tree, please do yourself a favour and NEVER try it. It is possibly the vilest thing in the world. Raw olives off the tree are bitter, acrid and so full of tannic acid that no amount of water will remove that horrible feeling from your mouth for quite a while! So don’t do it!

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Stage 1

So, Stage 1 of olive oil production happens when all the olives are placed into the big bowl with the two crushers on the right. The crushers then mash the olives up and remove the seeds. The pulp is then pumped into the holding containers on the left of the picture. This pulp is then stacked onto a disc holder with each disc being loaded with the pulp (shown below)

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Stacking mechanism
Stacking plates

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Presser
Filtration

Once the discs have been loaded up they are then wheeled over to be pressed (when they’re all loaded, the whole thing doesn’t look quite so phallic). The presser then does what it says it does and squeezes all the liquid from the solids. Once these liquids are collected, they are pumped into the huge filtration tanks where they water and any impurities are removed through several filtrations and what we are left with is pure olive oil!

Now, a little note on Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is oil that has an acidity of not more than 0.8 grams per  100 grams and a peroxide value of less than 20 milli-equivalent O2. The oil should also be made solely by  mechanical equipment and without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures  of 30°C. Naturally, this basically ensures that the quality of the olives shines through and is what makes olive oils of this nature so distinctive and different from each other. Things such as early harvest and late harvest also affect the flavour as a late harvest olive oil will be much sweeter than an early harvest due to the over-ripening of the olives. All olives, incidentally, start off green! The red hue comes at a later stage of ripening and the black colour comes when olives are allowed to over-ripen before being brined.

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And it just so happened that attached to the factory, there was a shop selling their extra virgin olive oil – plain and infused with many flavours. Most winery tours of Mendoza will include a visit to the Pasrai factory, but if you choose not to take a guided tour of the vineyards, then you could just as easily fit a trip to the factory!

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