Near the end of our Asian trip, when we were already saturated with the local food, I started missing bread, cheese and olives. The strong craving for olives could not be satisfied in the Laotian countryside! As it happens, it became the seed of our next journey. Even though the yearning lost its power somewhere along the way, we were excited to spend the winter in Greece, especially because of the opportunity to see the olive harvest.
Our knowledge on the subject was nonexistent and the first thing that surprised us was the fact that the varieties of olives used for eating and pressing oil are usually not the same. The olive oil kind can be quite small and hard. The ones we were picking from some of the young trees at times seemed to resemble more green peas than olives. The harvesting season continues between November and January and for oil production the green varieties are preferred. Olives straight from the tree are terribly bitter and inedible. To get rid of the bitterness you have to soak them in water for as long as 40 days! This process can be shortened significantly by cutting them.
Picking olives from the big trees is quite a laborious process. We start by gathering all the necessary equipment: big nets, sticks, rakes, buckets and sacks.
We arrive at the grove, surrounded by the typical Greek landscape.
We spread the nets around the trees. Travelling through Greece in fall, you can’t help but notice them all around the groves, spread out and waiting for the harvest, with olives accumulating over time. Our hosts place the nets only while picking, so that no old and rotten olives with partially oxidized oil go for pressing. Oil from such olives is highly acidic and of lower quality.
Olive trees usually bear fruit once every two years. Maybe that’s good as they take such a pounding during the harvest, they still have time to regenerate. You pick olives by hitting the trees with long sticks or, in lower parts, by raking the branches. You also cut a lot of branches to get fruit from the top and to make the interior of the tree accessible.
You take the leaves out, pour the olives into buckets and on a pile and then put them into sacks.
After the harvest is finished, we go to the local press, where our crops go on a small conveyor belt.
There the rest of the leaves gets sucked out…
… they’re washed…
…and in the meantime also weighted.
Then they find their way to a machine which mashes them into an ugly pulp. Only later do they proceed to the mechanical press.
After the oil is separated from the other liquids, it goes to the filter and voila!
In a week, we managed to pick 466 kg of olives from which we got about 50 kg of oil. Our hosts were pleased with this amount, yet we heard opinions that this is a very low ratio. Experts, speak up 🙂
The green gold straight from the press is still very grassy and bitter in taste but it becomes more gentle within a few days. The oil we got may perhaps be one of the best there are. Freshly picked olives from trees not touched by chemicals, freshly cold-pressed using a mechanical press. Come visit and have a taste!