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The 2017 olive story

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Post Thu Nov 30, 2017 10:23 pm
stewartwillsher User avatar

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Oil WAFFLE; 2017 olive saga, written primarily for RCZ forum.

As Christmas creeps up on us again, it is the time of year that our land gives us back the results of the year's efforts, mainly by our helpers, who are assisting us in maintaining a traditional, but not particularly profitable finca.
From as far back as anyone round here know, our terraces have had olives, figs and grapes, all mixed up to give an interesting landscape, but difficult from a cultivating perspective; being on many levels and insufficient space or runs for tractor access and use.
It is what it is, and we shall try and keep it that way; the last ten years in our ownership we have only improved most of what we bought, by pruning, clearing weed and brambles, without changing things.
There is heritage in our olive trees, with some, going by the size and appearance of the base of the trunk, being several hundred years old.

Here's a description of this year's olive harvest (on the finca) and processing (at the press - almazara).
Because the summer started early, and after a not too wet spring, and with only a couple of days serious rain in four months, it was thought the crops would suffer.
However, nature struggled through, and in the end our yields have been good, with grapes above average, figs and olives a little above average.

The stages which our "olives to olive oil" followed were roughly as follows.

Deciding when:
First off, it is a variable date as to when to go for it; too early and the fruit is not as ripe and plump; too late and much will have fallen and start to deteriorate and loose potential oil.
The colour of the olives is not very significant, but when many have darkened it is a sign of ripeness.
You can also get a bit intimate and give the fruit a little squeeze; not that I can tell anything by that, and neither I nor the olive gets excited, but some say you can tell the readiness to harvest.
So, some years it can be very close to Xmas, whilst others in November.

Bashing and shaking:
Unless you have a huge olive plantation where mechanisation is applied, getting the olives off the trees and into sacks is a traditional and energetic process and fortunately our main helper is a strapping chap.
Most years we have all joined in whacking our sixty five trees, but this year for the first time, we hired a shaker, which is a petrol powered long pole with a sort of grip type double hook at the business end.
The branch is grabbed and the pole vibrated by the motor.
The reverberations through that part of tree shakes the fruit off; it works quite well, is quick, but is quite heavy; and I'm not sure if the tree is too pleased.
Below and around the tree is laid a net or sheet of some kind (we use an assortment of both) to collect the fallen olives.
Using the palos (long sticks) can be quite cathartic; our country friends indulge in shouting politicians names as the swish of the pole collides with the branch.
Perhaps it puts a little more force into the action, and it introduces an element of fun.
It can be bit chilly if starting at sun up, and layers of clothing needed initially.
But, as the day warms up and because of the strenuous nature of the job, by lunch time you are back to summer level of clothing.

Sacking (the good stuff):
Once on the net/sheet, a quick assessment at each tree determines if the olives are outnumbered, so to speak, by the detritus of leaves and twigs.
If mostly olives, then they are shovelled straight into sacks.
Otherwise, a sort of sloping sieve, called a criba, is used to separate the olives.
A shovel load or two of the mixture is put on the sloping bars and it is massaged (nothing exciting I can assure you) so that the rubbish drops through and the olives roll down the slope.
Every so often the sort of gate at the bottom is opened to allow clean olives to go into a sack hooked on the end.

Sacking (the rubbish):
I say rubbish because the job is dirty and hard work.
The olives which had fallen before the harvest and any that bounced and missed the nets and sheets are on the soil.
The nets/sheets are removed and using rakes, the soil around the area is brushed into piles, which are then a mixture of olives (good) and leaves, twigs, soil and stones (not so good).
This mixture, as above is shovelled onto the criba and separated with a bit more effort, being a task of picking out of rubbish and massaging.
The remaining olives again sliding down for release into a sack.

So now, dotted around about a hectare (approx. two acres) are loads of sacks (34 I think it was this year), mostly full, about forty kilos each one, and tied at the neck with string.
The fearsome ATV, a four wheel drive agricultural quad, is used to collect three sacks at a time and move them to by the main gate.
The carrying racks on front and back are about a metre off the ground, so really a he-man job loading each sack.
Some terraces are several levels down, whilst a couple are above the gate.
The ATV is a sod to drive with wide deep tread tires and no power assist, making for heavy steering, and with some links between terraces needing a multi-point turn to zig-zag up or down, tough going.
Low gear and four wheel drive are selected, as some parts are steep and on slippy rock surfaces.
Care on use of the awful thumb throttle is needed to prevent a wheelie or a flip, or worse, driving over the edge of a two metre drop, of which there are many locations.
Control is made worse by a centrifugal clutch making its own mind up when to bite.
I wear a hard hat and glasses to protect face and bonce from branches as I weave in and out of the trees.
But, it is better than hauling the full sacks on a wheelbarrow up or down the terraces.
[Incidentally, I think it is the scariest vehicle I have driven; it feels as if it is in control, not myself!]

Our proximity to a high (2,000 mtrs) mountain range to the North, can often provoke unsettled weather.
This year, as soon as the olives had been sacked and all round the finca, it started to rain and did so on and off for the next few days, until after we had finished at the press; t'riffic!

The press options:
This year we have chosen our press, no just based on price and our quantity, but to pay for our olives to be processed as a single batch so as to produce only our oil.
Most places only offer an arrangement where your olives are weighed and you get a credit which you can take as cash or oil later (or a bit of both), from bulk pressing including many other sources, but with only the one variety of olive.
The calculation of your credit requires that your olives are briefly assessed for yield; they also adjust the figure to give the almazara a profit.
But with the individual processing we chose this year, you pay for the processing and wait whilst your olives get pressed, and the oil that comes out the other end is bottled; it is just from your crop; no calculations, just what is produced.
But you have to make an appointment.

To the press:
This year the quantity, over a ton, is enough to warrant serious transport, so we could have either hired a tractor and trailer with driver, or, as we had chosen, a skip and truck with driver.
And, the distance to the press is thirty kilometres, so a truck was preferred to a slow tractor.
The skip was dropped off outside our gate one day; loaded up with the sacks; then skip on truck and off to the almazara the next day.
Some years when the total was under one ton, we have taken it in two trips in the Mondeo Estate.

At the press:
The sacks are emptied onto and through a grid in the yard, under which is the conveyor that will carry the olives, still with loads of leaves and some dirt, up to the first stage where they are cleaned and other detritus removed; simple blowing and jiggling technology is mainly used, I believe.
Next stage heats and grinds the entire olive into a paste, which can take about a quarter of an hour for the transition - pretty fruit going in, and coming out, a disgusting looking brown gunge.
Much, if not most, of the oil comes from the kernel, because the flesh is mostly water.
The brown paste is then compressed hydraulically to produce a liquid and a little water added to form an emulsion.
This is then passed through a centrifuge to separate the oil off.
It is then filtered.
Out the end comes the pale green pure oil which is bottled in five litre plastic containers.
They are boxed three per unit.
Interestingly, an energy saving ploy at some presses is to dry the residue from compressing the paste, and use it as a fuel for the heating boiler used in the process itself, some days later, no doubt.

The oil:
It is classed as Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which means it is first pressing, via a mechanical process with no chemicals used, and has the lowest acidity; it is the best!
It currently sells in Spain for between twenty five and thirty euros for a five litre bottle, called a garrafa.
The Manzanilla Cacerena variety of olive, which is what ours are, is considered the most popular and the oil is general purpose, for cooking or dressing or infusing with herbs, etc.

We took 1,124 kilos of olives to the almazara and received 175 litres of oil, which is a yield of 15.57%; anything over 15% is considered acceptable, so we are happy with that.
It cost us: 60 euros to hire the shaker; 50 euros to transport olives; 148 euros to process at the press (13.2 cents per kilo).
Total harvest expenditure - 258 euros.
Add to that about half the cost of the fertilizer applied in spring, say 60 euros (olives are half our trees.).
Total outlay 318 euros.
Value of the oil, estimated worth between 875 and 1,050 euros depending on who is buying and who is selling).
Half the oil goes to our helpers, who receive no payment for the work related to this crop; the rest we use or give away to family and friends.

Incidentally, contrasting olive cultivators were present at the almazara, the one preceding us had a car boot load, albeit a hatchback with seats folded whilst behind us was an artic!

To tidy up the story of olive cultivation: early spring - prune to shape trees to allow light to centre branches and remove the branches that are likely to bear little or no fruit, especially vertical shoots; a permit is obtained and all prunings burned; late spring (if possible just before rain forecast) - drop a kilo of fertilizer in a ring about a metre out from the trunk of each tree; summer/autumn - kick off (needs strong boots) or chop, suckers (known as hijos - children) growing from around the base or lower part of the trunk.
As part of general finca maintenance, ground around base of each tree is kept fairly clear of weeds, either with selective weed killer or a serious brush cutter / strimmer type machine.
To classify as organic we'd have to jump through hoops with inspections, etc. use prescribed fertilizer, no weed killer, and an approved press, but we would be eligible for grants, and be able to sell the oil for a higher price; we don't bother!

I have put some photo's in a dropbox folder accessible using the link below:
[sorry no pics of bashing / shaking; we were away and let our helpers get on with it at a time of their choosing.] ... jJm6a?dl=0

As for the other crops this year:
The wine is fermenting in the tinajas (vats) and by Christmas it should have calmed down, so a quick draw of a sample and a slurp, for quality control purposes you understand.
Over half a ton of grapes should have been reduced to maybe three hundred litres of plonk, which will be bottled in plastic two litre ex-lemonade bottles, at our leisure.
Whether it will be drinkable without mixing with lemonade, is speculation, but cooking with it is excellent.
The figs went to market, via a local agent, and fetched over seven hundred euros for about three quarters of a ton of dried fruit; a lot of work for little money, but it pays for our neighbour's holidays.
That's it for this year; I expect I will amuse myself over the xmas / new year period, pruning the vines (guess there are about five hundred) back nearly to old wood.
Then we start all over again.

Any questions, please ask, and if I can tell you, from what I have learned in our new life this past dozen years, I will, gladly.

Felices Fiestas a Todos (happy holidays to all)
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Post Fri Dec 01, 2017 11:15 am
RCZash User avatar

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Hi, thanks for this and your other posts. I have enjoyed reading them and they have jogged my memory. I am no wordsmith so although I have some interesting stories they remain in my head somewhere, many being lost to brain fade due to old age. Keep them coming long may they continue. :beer:
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