Making Olive Oil

Mikalis Garden
Today we visit Mikalis at his olive groves in Paleohora.

Olives are bitter if they are eaten straight off the tree. If they dry out in the sun and become shriveled (but not rotten), the bitterness goes away, and they are delicious with a soft chewy texture. Olives are not naturally salty.

Washing Jugs
Mikalis is preparing to take a portion of his olives to the oil press today. These containers must be washed well and brought to the mill for collecting the oil.
Chrissostomo Hut
The olive press is about a one hour drive east from Magganitis in a village called Chrisostomo. The area around Chrisostomo is a major olive-growing and oil-producing region in Ikaria. This old stone hut lies below the olive press.
Cart of Olives
Ikarians from the whole area are lining up with their olive harvests.

Unloading Olives

Olive Chute
The olives are first emptied into a chute in a small upper-level building.

Olive Chute

Inside Chute
Olives inside the chute.
Olive Factory
The olives are conveyed to a lower level building where the magic happens.
This olive press is Italian-made.
Lower Level Chute
This is where the olives make their appearance on the lower level.

The olives pictured here are small, mostly green olives. They get an oil yield of 15%, versus larger black olives which yield 30% oil. However, the small green olive trees produce a reliable harvest every year, whereas the trees that grow black olives only produce a good harvest about every three years. Many Ikarians have both types of olives on their property.

Black Olives
These black olives get a higher oil yield.
Tending Olives
The man on the left is in his 90s, and still happily tending the olive press.
The leaves and twigs are separated from the olives and sucked outside through a pipe.
Leaf Chute
Leaves and twigs are deposited outside the building.
Water Bath
The olives drop onto another conveyor and receive a water bath.
Getting Weighed
From the water bath, the olives are dropped onto a scale so they can be weighed.

Weighing Machine

Masher Exterior
Next, the olives are put into a masher, which mixes the olives with warm water and macerates them for a total of forty minutes.

Sticky notes are labelled with the name of the person whose olives are in that particular compartment. Some people have so many olives that they take up two full segments of the masher or more.

The giant blades quickly turn the olives into a liquidy paste.
Full Masher
This chamber is getting full to the brim.
Waste Remover
This contraption takes all the solids out of the olive paste.
Olive Waste
The olive waste is sucked outside onto a giant pile.
Olive Waste
This debris will be dried over the summer, and then given away to people to be used in furnaces to heat homes.
For the final step, the mixture of juice and oil gets deposited into this machine, which filters out pure olive oil and discards the other liquids.
Olive Juice
Any liquid left that is not oil goes into this hose, which empties into a drain.
The pure oil flows into a trough, from which it can be funneled into containers.
The oil is being put into large jugs for transport.
Most of the oil produced in Ikaria never leaves the island. It is almost exclusively produced by and for people who live here.

Fresh olive oil may be used immediately, but is better to let the oil sit for several months before using it.

Net Yield
This is Mikalis’s net yield for the day. The smaller container on the right is the amount he insisted we take in exchange for our help in the olive harvest.

The whole process would take about one hour, if unimpeded. However, after driving an hour in either direction and waiting in line behind all the other people ahead of us at the olive press, it ends up taking half a day. A reward well worth the wait!

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