Olive harvest to oil pressing, that’s how Olive Oil is produced (read details below)

Harvesting olives and Olive Oil pressing in Prefecture of Elis, Western Peloponnese, Greece.

I thank the harvest crew and the olive press plant, both in Elis, Western Peloponnese, Greece, for allowing me to document their labor.

Olives are harvested since ancient times by beating them off the trees using sticks. Depending on the area and weather conditions, harvest in Greece takes place from October to January.

In modern harvesting, olive limbs full of fruit are pruned and the fruit is shaken off the cut branches using gasoline-powered beaters. Pruning helps remaining branches get stronger and more productive next year helped by better light and air circulation. Fruit remaining on trees is beaten off, as ancient Greeks did. Recently, high tech robotic arms were introduced with huge brushes to shake olives off. They speed up harvest significantly with minimal labor, but the olive trees must be pruned later. Nets are laid under the trees to collect the olives that fall.

The olives from the nets are packaged in sacks of about 50 Kg or in pallet boxes of about 400 Kg. They are then transported to an oil press to be pressed and oil extracted as soon as possible after picking. The fresher the fruit, the better oil it will produce, lower in acidity and richer in beneficial ingredients. Olives, like any fruit, if left in the field long time after harvest, will deteriorate and eventually rot. That is why, during harvest season, olive mills operate day and night.

Modern oil mills operate in continuous flow. The fruit is fed continuously, washed and cleaned of any stems and small branches and then crushed in a mill to form olive paste. The resulting paste is mixed with water and kneaded in malaxers (kneading machines) for about 20-30 minutes. Usually, olive mills have more malaxers to serve multiple producers at the same time, since pressing is the most time-consuming stage. Kneading olive paste with water helps separate oil from the flesh of the fruit and release their flavors and aromas. Colder kneading temperatures produces less oil of higher quality, better taste and aromas, lower acidity. Hotter temperatures yield higher volume of lesser quality oil. That is why “cold pressed” oil is more sought out and also more expensive.

The output of the malaxer paste is fed in a horizontal centrifugal separator (decanter) to separate liquids, oil mixed with water, and solids, pressed pulp and crushed pits. Oil is then separated from water in a vertical centrifugal separators. Oil is collected in stainless steel tanks and delivered to the olive producer in bulk or packaged in cans usually of 5 or 20 lt. The olive mill usually keeps half the amount of oil as a fee. The waste water is safe to drain in. the environment. The solid waste is either dumped in an adjacent field to form compost, or is transported to special plants that produce pomace oil using, suitable for frying and many industrial uses.

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