UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS TO REACH A GOAL
Each year we harvest our olives from 175 trees grown on our estate, making small batches of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. There are a wide range of olive varietals grown, and each imparts its own unique flavors to an olive oil blend. All 6 varietals that we have are either blended together or field blended. Ideally, you want award-winning olive oil to have a balance of fruity, bitter, pungency, and buttery texture - perfect for cooking, finishing or even dipping your favorite crusty bread! Yet, have you wondered what's really involved to produce this finished product? As you will see, it's a product of timing, dedication & love!
THE HARVEST PROCESS & FACTORS THAT AFFECT OIL QUALITY:
IT'S ALL IN THE TIMING
How do we know when it's the best time to harvest? That's the golden question, for liquid gold that is! Typically, you don't want to pick too early because oil content is low, and flavors are not fully developed. Conversely, if you're too late then you'll risk having significant loss of freshness. Incidentally, the purple color of the olive does not tell the whole story either. So desired ripeness must be manually & visually calculated using a Maturity Index. Starting in October, we'll begin random sample inspections. We look for an average in the samples that we test to be around #4 on the index chart to determine the best time. The flesh turns white, and when squeezed you'll get a milky, oily fluid. We usually gear up for olive harvest around the first few weeks of November because that's when our Tuscan varietals tend to peak.
QUALITY STARTS WITH THE OLIVES
The saying goes, 'you can't make quality olive oil with bad quality olives'. That's why it's imperative to be proactive, and that starts in the field from start to the finish.
Harvesting begins early in the morning when it's cool to mitigate any temperature issues.
Each olive tree is harvested by hand. To minimize fruit damage, we have a unique unit called the OlivSpeed harvester (inverted umbrella catcher net) that goes around the tree. This is a much better method to the traditional laying down of nets where the olives can get stepped on and crushed when picking. We then use olive rakes (manual and rotating), running them through the branches. The olive rake is designed to knock olives off the tree that will then get caught by the umbrella and fall safely down into a catch trap. Once again, breaking the skins gets avoided. This is very important because olives oxidize rapidly if damaged, and this is detrimental to flavor and it also starts the breakdown of antioxidants (polyphenols) - the main health benefit of olive oil. The olives are then collected in bins and transported to the mill.
TO THE MILL WE GO
Now that we've done our part in growing & harvesting with the best practices possible, the rest of the magic really happens by professional millers' Mill on Wheels.
The olives are processed as quickly as possible (within 24 to 48 hours after harvesttime). There are 5 main stages to the process:
- Deleafing & Washing – The olives are sorted and separated from leaves, twigs, stems and other debris. They are then washed to remove dirt.
- Milling / Crushing – This step involves crushing the olives into a paste. While the olives are crushed, the fruit cells tear which facilitates the release of tiny oil droplets.
- Malaxing – This process brings all of the tiny olive oil droplets together combining them into bigger drops (also called coalescence of emulsion). The creation of perfumes & aromas begins here, but they can also be lost here. That's why the olive paste is mixed no more that 20 minutes, and temperature control is critical at this stage (staying under 82F).
- Decanter Extraction – The oil is separated from the rest of the olive solids (pomace) by 2 or 3 phase centrifugation. The oil that comes out of the first centrifuge is further processed in a second, faster-rotating centrifuge to eliminate any remaining water and solids. Filtration is the final step.
- Storage & Bottling – Now the oil is transferred into stainless steel drums, topped with Argon gas (to seal for freshness) where it can then be bottled using the same process.
LIKE A VIRGIN
To be labeled Extra Virgin, olive oil must be "first press". This means being unadulterated, made without using chemicals, and with very little to no heat. Testing is done by means of a chemistry analysis panel. Samples are sent to a lab to be tested for Free Fatty Acidity, Peroxide, UV Analysis parameters based on USDA standards.
YOU & THE 4 S's
Now it's in your hands. It's time to go olive tasting. Don't worry, you don't have to be an expert, but you can act like one! The best way to discover an oil’s flavor is to sip it “neat” - meaning on its own without bread or other food. This will allow you to savor the oil’s flavor without distraction. But you are welcome to use bread if you wish!
- SWIRL - This releases the oil’s aroma molecules.
- SNIFF - Inhale from the rim of the glass. What initial notes of the intensity and the aroma did you detect?
- SLURP - Take a small sip of the oil while also sipping in some air. This action helps to spread it throughout your mouth. Note the aromas as well as the intensity of bitterness.
- SWALLOW - An oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat. If the oil makes you want to cough, it is a pungent oil.
What ATTRIBUTES did you recognize? As mentioned in the beginning, a balance of 4 basic profile categories is desired to make award winning oil:
FRUITY which refers to the aroma of fresh, undamaged olive fruit that is perceived through the nostrils.
BITTERNESS which is a primary flavor component of fresh olives perceived on the tongue.
PUNGENCY which is the biting sensation noticed in one’s throat. Sometimes oils are referred to as one or two “coughers”.
DESCRIPTORS which is descriptive language to depict the oil’s aroma and flavor. This is subjective and therefore not scientific.
To help narrow down more profile attributes & descriptive flavors, we have provided the following sensory wheels:
BEGINNING WITH THE END IN MIND
It is our hope and goal to produce delicious extra virgin olive oil from year-to-year!
There are many nuances of flavors to be found. Now that you've learned the many aspects of making Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we are confident that you will fully appreciate this ancient "juice of the olive". So armed with this knowledge, here's to your new sensory adventure. Enjoy the discovery!
The Partridge Family