I’m writing an article about how to make your own olive oil for Urban Farm’s sister publication Hobby Farm Home. To take some photographs, my wife and I took a trip to a local olive press. We went to a modern oil press, called a frantoio, to talk to the folks at the facility. Attached is a small museum with a nicely restored antique oil press. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the huge stone slab olive squashers used before the wheel crusher was invented.
Olive oil has a long history in Liguria, and it’s a good bet that the locals were making olive oil on this very spot several hundred years before the Roman era began. There are dozens of frantoios around here, and people come in by the thousands to get their oil pressed.
The cooperative that runs this frantoio has 1,700 members who bring their harvested olives here to be processed into olive oil. Most of these members just use the olive oil for personal use, but around 20 percent derive a significant portion of their income from selling it.
Boy, are the people proud of their oil! They arrive with boxes and bags of olives and wait patiently for their turn in the processing order. The machinery has several mixing stages during which smaller loads cannot be fully processed, so the minimum amount a member can bring it at any one time is a quintale or about 225 pounds. Most people bring in 500 to 1,000 pounds of olives. This frantoio, like most others, works on an appointment-only basis, and getting an appointment can be difficult in abundant years.
Photo by Rick Gush
I found it surprising that the entire olive, including pit, is ground up during the processing. The crushed pit residue is removed later, but it seems to add a chemical-catalytic effect that helps separate the best-flavored oils. Experiments using a pitting machine to allow pressing of just olive flesh have concluded that the oil tastes worse in the pit-less processing.
When the oil pours out of the final filtering machine, it’s magic. Not only is it a good-looking product, the sight of it pouring out of the spout and into the containers the members will take home is what the hullabaloo is all about.
The good news for my family back home in the states is that my wife acquired some really good oil and some kitchen utensils made with olive wood. The Christmas gift acquisition season has begun!