Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is made through a relatively simple yet careful process that involves the extraction of oil from olives without the use of heat or chemicals. Here's a basic overview of how EVOO is made:
- Harvesting: The process begins with the harvesting of ripe olives from olive trees. The timing of the harvest is crucial as it can affect the flavor and quality of the resulting oil. Olives are typically picked by hand or by using specialized machinery that shakes the trees to release the fruit.
- Cleaning: After harvesting, the olives are cleaned to remove any dirt, leaves, or debris. This is often done using conveyor belts and air blowers.
- Crushing: The cleaned olives are then crushed to break them down into a paste. Traditional methods involve large stone mills, where the olives are crushed between two large granite wheels. Modern methods use stainless steel crushers or hammer mills. The goal is to create a paste without heating it, as heat can degrade the oil's quality.
- Malaxation: The olive paste is mixed or churned in a malaxer, which is a machine that helps agitate the paste and separate the oil from the solids. This process allows the oil droplets to come together and facilitates oil extraction.
- Pressing: In traditional methods, the olive paste is pressed to extract the oil. Hydraulic presses apply pressure to the paste, squeezing out the oil. In modern methods, a centrifuge is often used to separate the oil from the water and solids. This process is gentler and more efficient than traditional pressing.
- Separation: After pressing or centrifugation, the resulting mixture is separated into three components: oil, water, and pomace (solid residue). The oil is carefully separated from the other components.
- Filtration: Some EVOOs undergo filtration to remove any remaining impurities or particles. Filtration can help clarify the oil and improve its shelf life.
- Storage: The final EVOO is stored in stainless steel tanks or dark glass bottles to protect it from light and air, which can cause it to deteriorate. Proper storage helps preserve the oil's quality.
It's important to note that the quality of EVOO can vary depending on factors such as the olive variety, the region where the olives are grown, and the production methods used. True EVOO should meet specific quality and taste criteria, and it should not undergo any chemical treatments or refinement processes. Authentic EVOO should have a characteristic fruity, peppery, and sometimes slightly bitter flavor profile.