So…How do They Make Olive Oil?

So…How do They Make Olive Oil?

, Spain – November 14, 2009

Today we were fortunate enough to be able to go to the Valderrama Olive Oil farm to get a firsthand look at how olive oil is made.  The farm is very near the small town of La Pueblanueva, Spain.  That is about 111 kilometers southwest of our home.  It took us nearly an hour and one-half to travel to the farm.  I thought it was one of the most interesting tours I have taken.  I am sure that is because instead of just having someone explain to us how the oil is made, we were able to see it all happen because it was the harvest season.

Our trip took place during a rather cloudy day; however, it did not rain on us during the tour.  It was a little chilly though.  Driving through this area of Spain, one sees uncountable olive trees.  The groves are seemingly everywhere.  At the Valderrama farm, there are groves of several different varieties of olive trees.

Olive trees at Aceite de Oliva Valderrama (Valderrama Olive Oil).
Having fun on the tour.

The harvesting of the olives begins with a rather brute-ish looking machine I refer to as The Beast. The Beast is driven to a particular olive tree.  The jaws are opened and then closed upon the lower trunk of the olive tree.  The operator of The Beast pushes a button and shakes the tree.  When I say shake, I mean shake!  Standing nearby, it feels as though one is near the epicenter of an earthquake.  After this day, I decided the olive tree is one tough customer; standing up to such abuse season after season.

During the shaking process, there are workers with gas-powered “rakes” that vibrate while pulled through the branches of the olive trees as the tree is being shaken.  Between the shaking and the raking, virtually all of the olives are dislodged and fall onto a black fabric.  The black fabric stretches between several trees.  The Beast and the other workers go from tree to tree to coax the olives to the ground.

The Beast waiting for action.
The Beast shaking an olive tree near the base of the trunk. Workers use vibrating rakes to coax other olives off the tree.
Another view of the operation.
Yet another view.

At the far end of the black fabric, workers place a sturdy piece of canvass on the ground under the fabric.  Once all of the trees within the “reach” of the black fabric are emptied, the black fabric is then pulled forward very quickly by a four-wheeler.  At the far end, two workers wait and help direct the accumulated olives onto the waiting canvass.  These various pieces of canvass are near an access road.  A tractor and trailer with a boom arm drives on the access road to each canvass.  The boom arm is lowered and a worker attaches the four corners of the canvass to the boom arm.  The canvass is then hydraulically lifted above the trailer.  Once it is properly positioned, two of the corners are released so the olives fall into the trailer.  This scene is repeated until each canvass has been picked up and emptied.

A worker attaching a canvas tarp of olives to the arm of the tractor.
Placing olives in the trailer.
A four-wheeler pulling the ground clother to get the olives onto a canvas tarp.
Workers standing at the tarp to roll the olives onto the canvass just as the four-wheeler stops.

The tractor pulls the full trailer back to the processing portion of the farm.  The trailer is dumped, much like a dump truck bed, into a floor grate.  The olives fall to the bottom of the floor grate and are directed to a conveyor belt.  The conveyor belt pulls the olives up toward the ceiling of the processing building.  From there, the olives begin their journey into a cleaning and pitting area.  That is also when any branches or “extra” debris is removed from the haul.

As the olives wind their way through the processing facility, the pit-less olives are crushed into a paste.  That is the beginning part of the olive oil extraction process.  From there, the oil is extracted and separated.  At the end of that process, the olive oil is moved to large, stainless steel holding vats.  The olive oil remains there until it is time to actually place it into bottles for sale to the public.

Returning to the processing area.
The initial dumping spot for the olives.
The trailer unloading.
A conveyor loaded with freshly picked olives.
Olives on the conveyor.
The group listening to the guide explain part of the process of turning olives into olive oil.
An olive pulp.
An alarm panel to help monitor the operation.
Olive oil storage tanks.

Prior to this trip, I had really not been exposed to or used olive oil.  We bought some of the olive oil in the processing center’s store.  We have used it to improve the flavor of many of our favorite dishes.

This was a very informative and fun tour.  I would highly recommend it to others.

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