So that particular weekend, our neighbours on Dreamland, Gaë, Pauline and Adrien, literally “extended the olive branch” and taught us how to make olive oil – the old-fashioned way! Before we arrived, Gaë had done a lot of the hard work already by harvesting about 50kgs of olives, half of it from a single tree. With about 20 trees on the property – it was a good sign of what was to come in future years. So when we arrived the morning, he was already washing the olives in big tubs – big dark green, medium red and small light green olives, all mixed.
In MMXII, as the inscription reads, Gaë had built a concrete crushing wheel. The base had little stones in it that were gathered all over Australia. I don’t know how he initially got the concrete wheel onto the base, and he can’t recall either, but neither do we know how the Egyptians had built the pyramids…
The washed olives were all spread out on the crushing wheel’s floor, where the last of the leaves were sorted out and removed. Although olive leaf extract is very healthy, and olive leaf tea is quite tasty and healthy, you don’t want the leaves in the crush, as they leave a bitter taste if they are crushed in with the olives.
Next was the crushing process. Together with Adrien, we made a small relay team and passed the crusher wheel around and around and around, while Gaë scraped the paste and olives back into the path of the crusher wheel. Round and round it goes. Quite a rhythmic affair it was – kr, kr , kr, kr, whoosh, kr, kr, kr, kr, whoosh and so we went on and on and on and on, and on and on, and a bit more on and on… After a while Adrien commented that he could already have driven to the supermarket and returned with a bottle of olive oil! At last Gaë gave in and agreed it was sludge enough.
The next step, which Gaë did while we slipped away to quickly wolf down a pizza, was to slowly stir the sludge paste for a couple of hours. This process, called malaxing, causes the cells to relax and to release the oil and juice contained in the olives. The process also causes the microscopic oil and water drops to coalesce, forming increasingly larger drops, which can then be successfully extracted in the press.
The press process turned out to be quite interesting, because all Gaë’s neatly prepared hessian bags and certain key parts of his home-made press were already “removed” as part of their preparations to move. So he had to improvise – a lot! He scooped the olive paste out and placed it on shade net sheets, which were then tied up with string and placed on a big black sheet on the press framework. Due to some of the parts being missing, we found it easier to eventually just apply weight and body press the bags one at-a-time on the black sheet. It was quite amazing to see the shiny oily olive lava ooze out of the bags and make its way down the sheet into the waiting bucket.
Gaë and Adrien then placed the shade net bags on bricks in the containers to let the last of the “lava” ooze out overnight. The last step is then to separate the olive “mother juice” from the oil, either in a separating funnel, or by scooping the oil off from a large-necked bottle.
Of course, if the press parts hadn’t gone astray, there would maybe have been a better yield. But for this exercise, the volumes didn’t matter – we were there to learn the principles and process, which we did – while having a lot of fun.
- We learnt the principles and techniques how to make olive oil. This is so crucially important, because even if you mechanise parts of the process in future to cater for the larger volumes, you have to make sure these principles are still adhered to.
- The joy of learning how to turn raw olives harvested from the land into such a precious commodity as olive oil is just amazing!
- The time when you pick the olives – early, ripe or very ripe plays an influence on the taste and durability of the oil.
- If we intend doing this on a more productive scale next year, we may have to look into making or getting a press that works with a bit less manual handholding. It took three of us to keep the bags in place, which is a bit much manpower for a small amount of olive oil.