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How Is Olive Oil Made?

Posted Thursday, December 26th, 2013

We’re all getting hooked on olive oil – using it in recipes for baking and cookies, dipping for breads, etc. Many of us now know that Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the oil extracted exclusively from the first press of the olives – the highest quality of oils you can get. But do you know how it’s made from start to finish? We thought it might be helpful to go through the process – and we learned some things in our research too!

There’s a precise timing when olives are just right for pressing – to produce the right acidity, flavor, and polyphenol levels (more on these in future weeks). This period is a short window right after the olives are ripe, lasting only about two to three weeks.

To get olive oil, the olives must first be removed from their trees. In the “old days,” trees were shaken or beaten with sticks to remove the olives. These were then picked up from the ground and collected for the next steps of production. However, this act of dropping to the ground caused bruising to the olives, which causes the fruit (and thus, the oil) to degrade. Newer methods include different ways of catching the olives before they hit the ground, such as shaking the trees and setting nets below the branches to catch the olives in mid-air. These olives are then carried to the processing plant in shallow containers, so the olives are not pressed on top of each other during transportation and remain unbruised. At the plant, the leaves and twigs are removed and then the olives are washed.

Next comes the most interesting part: the pressing of the olives. Stainless steel rollers crush the olives and pits to grind into a paste. This paste then undergoes a process called malaxation, where the paste is stirred until the water separates from the solid particles. This paste is put on mats and pressed further or put into a centrifuge – a machine that spins at high speeds to separate the materials – to extract the oil and water from the paste. Water is then extracted from this mixture, and then we have our delicious extra virgin olive oil!

If you'd like to watch this process in action, see video below: 

And an extra tidbit: it takes at least ten pounds of olives to produce just four cups of olive oil. (Think about how many pounds of olives that would be for our store alone!)