The greener the better. This is what Guido tells us as we empty crates of olives into his truck. Now that we have picked and picked olives, it’s time to go to the press.
Just as I struggle to lift one of the heavy creates into the truck—I drop it! “Oh that’s bad, that’s really bad” says Guido. I feel horrible and am so embarrassed. “You must make sure that you pick up every last olive” he says while I crouch down to keep them from rolling down the hill.
As I carefully gather handfuls of olives and wipe them clean, I reflect on just how much work goes into each and every olive. Each trek up and down the hills, every bead of sweat and the all of the hours poured into this grove reside in the flesh of these olives. They are precious, and we learn to treat them like gold.
After I tuck my tail between my legs and get over my mistake, we squeeze in the front seat of the truck and head to the press. The back of the truck is now filled, to the brim, with olives.
Guido has an appointment at the Olivicoltori Toscani Associati press—or the Association of Tuscan Olive Growers. Locals affectionately call it the “Frantoio” which is the name of a common Tuscan olive. This press uses a cold press method which preserves the quality of the olive oil. Every step of the mechanical process is kept strictly at a temperature of 25-28°C.
The press is getting ramped up and will run 24 hours per day at the height of the season. Farmers literally take their olives to the press throughout the night. The reason for the rush is to go to the press within 24 hours of picking olives, which keeps the peroxide levels low.
We arrive at the press. It is very loud as the machines work their magic. Guido is well known at the press and friendly exchanges are passed.
We stand at an enormous stainless steel vat and wait to observe the process. Below are the steps of turning olives into olive oil as we saw them. This process takes several hours.
The Tuscan Cold Press Process:
Step 1: Weigh the Olives
Guido drives the truck over an enormous scale built into the ground outside of the press. We have 1,250 kilos of olives in our truck.
Step 2: The Dumping of the Olives
This is my favorite part. The farmers back their trucks up to an oversized stainless funnel. Then they open the flood gates and let the olives roll. Bamboo sticks are used to help push ornery olives down the funnel, and a steel lattice overlay helps to catch any leaves/branches as the olives tumble down.
Step 3: Removal of Leaves
From the funnel, the olives are moved upwards on a conveyor belt to have their leaves removed. The leaves are vacuumed into the sky and shot outside to be disposed of.
Step 4: Olive Bath
Once the leaves are removed, the olives take a bath. They are washed with clean, cold water through pressure and a tumble cycle. This removes the dirt (which could increase the acidity of the olive oil).
Step 5: Pitted & Pulverized
Next the olives are pitted and pulverized. The pits are removed; the olives are crushed and then spit into a temperature controlled machine. There they are mixed for 45 minutes at 25-28°C. This machine holds up to 650 kilos of crushed olives at a time, so our olives require two cycles.
Step 6: Centrifuge Time
Now the crushed paste is moved into a large centrifuge which separates the oil from the paste. The oil is bright green and the paste is thick brown. The paste is blasted outside into a pile, and later used for animal feed.
Step 7: Centrifuge #2
The oil is now sent to a smaller centrifuge where it is refined further. This machine removes any tiny particles of paste that may still be in the oil as well as excess water. The oil is then strained and filtered to become green gold.
Step 8: Collect the Green Gold
The last step of the process is to collect your exquisite olive oil. It is actually neon green. We have cleaned Guido’s stainless containers with boiling water and vinegar so that they are sterile and ready to fill. The oil comes out slowly and the color is dazzling. I’m transfixed as I watch it spill into our steel vats.
I had no idea that olive oil is supposed to look like this. Apparently fresh olive oil stays this vibrant green for up to six months, assuming it is stored properly (away from light, heat and air). At that point, the oil begins to lose its brilliant color as well as some of its sharp flavor. It is no longer considered olio nuovo (fresh olive oil), but simply extraordinary extra virgin olive oil and can be enjoyed for up to two years.
Now for the taste. Holy cow! Troy and I were once olive oil virgins, but now we know. Fresh olive oil is an awakening. It’s like tasting good red wine for the first time, or truffles, or dark chocolate. It arouses an extra sense within you and sends you somewhere entirely new.
The smell is similar to a wheat grass shot and tastes peppery, grassy, silky, full bodied, rich and sensual. Guido says that this batch has hints of artichoke and aubergine (eggplant). I can taste the woody flavor of an artichoke and a touch of sweetness. I’m not sure I get eggplant, but I definitely get something good.
Fresh olive oil is one of those tastes that grows on you. For me it’s like sushi or Indian cuisine. At first, I have to get used to it. Then I develop an appreciation. Eventually, I cannot get enough.
I can honestly say that I plan to buy Guido’s olive oil (or another equivalent) for the rest of my life. Apparently once olive oil gets to a grocery store, it is already rancid. The trick to getting good olive oil is buying it directly from a producer and then keeping it away from light and heat.
You can buy some directly from Guido by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or contacting him through his web site at Guido Gualandi. Now shipping is expensive, takes time and you must buy at least six bottles at a time. Expect about $30 per bottle (1 liter) and one month for shipping. But it’s worth it.
If there is enough demand for Guido’s olive oil, Troy and I will consider bringing in a truck load to offer better prices and faster delivery to everyone. Please let us know if you are interested.
And now, see this process in action. Go to the CSP-TV tab and watch the At the Press—Turning Olives into Olive Oil webisode.
Next bottling olive oil by hand…