How is Olive Oil Made?
From the olive tree to the bottle, Colavita makes their olive oil with both traditional and modern processes to ensure the best quality for our customers.
The Olive Tree
Olive trees have been on Earth for about 40 million years. They are “evergreen” trees which grow year-round and regenerate new olive fruit one time per year. The trees can start bearing fruit as young as 3 years old and live for hundreds of years. There are over 800 million olive trees worldwide and plantings increase each year due to rising Olive Oil demand.
The olive harvest generally starts in late September and continues through January. There are both traditonal and mechanical methods of harvesting the olives, both of which are still used by Colavita. The fallen olives drop into nets that are placed around the foot of the trees, crated and then transported to the olive mill as soon as possible to minimize damage and bruising. Once delivered to the mill the olives are cleaned and prepared for extraction.
Hand picking olives on ladders is known as “brucatura”. The other method, “raccattatura," is when the olives to fall to the ground either by letting them ripen and fall off the branches, or by shaking or striking the tree with bamboo canes.
A “combing” machine is used to pass large-toothed blades through the branches, literally combing the tree. Another "vibrating" harvest machine is also used which is placed around an olive tree and shakes the olives off.
Transporting and Storing Olives
Bruising and crushing of the olives is avoided by placing them in wooden crates and not in sacks, so air can circulate through the crates. Olives take longer to crush than to pick so they are sometimes placed in a dark and cool storage place, but must be crushed within a few days of being picked. The olives are cleaned to remove stems, twigs, and debris and then washed to remove dirt and pesticide.
Olive Oil Production
The age old process of extracting the oil from the olives is comprised of separate stages: the crushing stage, the kneading or mixing stage, and the extraction stage. They are then crushed into a paste which is done by either rolling large round stones over them or with modern mechanical steel grinders or hammers. The olive paste is then delicately remixed in order to begin extraction. The final stage is the oil extraction, which serves to separate the three different components of the olive paste: the oil, the water and the solids (crushed pits, skin and pulp).
Bottling and Storing
The oil which is obtained from the paste must be filtered in order to get rid of any small particles of pulp and vegetal water which is a natural component of the olive. This is done by decanting the oil and transferring it to clean stainless steel tanks. Today, almost all large bottlers use stainless steel tanks which are much easier to clean and tend to block out more light which can cause olive oil to go rancid. The best containers for olive oil are either colored or transparent glass and aluminum or stainless steel tins.
Types of Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest standard of olive oil with a maximum acidity level of 1% . It has a full-bodied olive fruit taste and pleasant spicy characteristic typical of freshly pressed oil from harvest ripe olives.
Virgin Olive Oil is typically slightly darker in color and has a higher acidity level ranging between 1 to 4%. It is a lower quality oil due to the pressing of some over-ripe or bruised olives in the extraction mix.
100% or Pure Olive Oil is an olive oil that has undergone heat and chemical refining to remove impurities and then blended with Virgin Olive Oil to add some olive color and mild flavor.
Olive Pomace Oil is produced from refining the depleted olive paste left from the extraction process. This refined oil is then blended with Virgin Olive Oil to provide back some olive flavor.
Difference between filtered and unfiltered oils
Extra virgin olive oil may be consumed either in a filtered or unfiltered state. Filtration is the process by which the microscopic bits of the fruit of the olive are removed from the oil. Unfiltered oil will be cloudy until it settles to the bottom. Some consider unfiltered oil superior because of the added flavor from the fruit, while others say it shortens the oil’s shelf life. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference.
Are all extra virgin olive oils the same?
Extra Virgin olive oils are not all the same. Like wines, extra virgin olive oils can vary dramatically in taste, depending upon the type and quality of the fruit that is pressed, the time of harvest, the weather during the growing season, and the region from which the olives were produced.
Connoisseurs generally use the following adjectives in appraising extra virgin olive oils: mild, semi-fruity and fruity depending on the flavor of the olive that can be detected. Further, some oils, such as the finer oils from Tuscany and Southern Italy, have a peppery finish that many appreciate. Colavita is proud that its extra virgin olive oil is the choice of many of the finest chefs – both in restaurants and in home kitchens around the United States.