Our location isn't ideal for olives. We usually only have any meaningful quantity every two years. We've been trying to improve that by bringing in new olive trees of different species and watering the trees more. Two years ago we had a great harvest and made enough olive oil to last almost two full years. Last year was an off year and this time we've had a decent but not great harvest.
Harvesting olives is pretty simple. At the end of autumn when it gets cold and the olives are fully mature you set a tarp under the trees and wack them with a stick a few times to make the olives drop. Ideally you'd immediately make olive oil or cure them to make them edible (olives are incredibly bitter if eaten straight from the tree). Since we don't have a large quantity or the ability to harvest everything at once we first keep them outside in cold water to keep them from spoiling.
The day we had scheduled to make the olive oil we sorted through a few last olives to select a small quantity for salt processing to get cured olives. We'll detail that process in a later post.
Once we had selected everything we put them into plastic bags, roughly 30kg to a bag. We ended up having about 300kg of olives. We loaded all the bags into the newest addition to the farm, an electric utility vehicle. This made getting all the olives to the car much easier. Electric rear wheel drive works wonders for the steep paths we have at the farm. We need to write a post just about this as well, as there are plenty of pitfalls on how to choose and buy one of these.
We then loaded the olives in the car with a tarp under to try and keep it clean. All the family wanted to go and see the oil making so we ended up using two cars instead of dropping the back seats and loading it all into just one.
Once we got to the local olive oil factory we realized we were in for a wait. We had a scheduled appointment but they were running very late. After waiting for 2 hours we eventually got our turn. We unloaded the olives in the loading dock and they got transferred around the factory to the large containers at the start of the line. When it was our turn they opened our container and the olives started flowing.
The first step is to go through a washing stage. The olives are rinsed in water and then vibrated to dry them again.
Unfortunately after that step nothing is really visible any more. The factory is mostly automated. The olives are grinded into a paste and cold-pressed to separate the oil from the rest.
After running through the whole process a final tap releases the oil into a final tank from which they fill the jerrycan containers we brought. This year we produced around 28 liters of oil from the 300kg of olives. That's around half of what we got two years ago so we have to make it last longer.
At this point the olive oil is still pretty cloudy. We let it sit in the jerrycans for a while and only started using the oil when most of the solids had settled in the bottom. The oil tends to have a much stronger flavor than the store bought one. Because the olives waited for a week or two between harvest and processing the acidity levels are a bit higher than usual but not by much. It doesn't really impact the flavor.
When we have a lot we use it for cooking but since this year we don't have as much and since olive oil is very cheap in Portugal we'll probably keep this one mostly for dipping bread in and eating raw. Yum!