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How is Olive Oil produced?

Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means. Green olives usually produce more bitter oil, and overripe olives can produce oil that is rancid, so for good extra virgin olive oil care is taken to make sure the olives are perfectly ripened.

The process is generally as follows:

  1. The olives are ground into paste using large millstones (traditional method) or steel drums (modern method).
  2. In the traditional method olives were ground with mill stones, the olive paste generally staying under the stones for 30 to 40 minutes. After grinding, the olive paste was spread on fibre disks, which were stacked on top of each other in a column, then placed into a press. Pressure was then applied onto the column to separate the vegetal liquid from the paste. This liquid still contained a significant amount of water. Traditionally the oil was shed from the water by gravity (oil being less dense than water).
  3. In the modern method olives are ground in steel drum mills for around 20 minutes. After grinding, the paste is stirred slowly for another 20 to 30 minutes in a particular container (malaxation), where the microscopic oil drops unite into bigger drops, which facilitates the mechanical extraction. The paste is then pressed by centrifugation and the water is separated from the oil in a second centrifugation.

Oil produced by these physical (mechanical) means is called virgin oil. Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil that satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects).

Sometimes the produced oil will be filtered to eliminate remaining solid particles that may reduce the shelf life of the product. Labels may indicate the fact that the oil has not been filtered, suggesting a different taste. Unfiltered fresh olive oil that has a slightly cloudy appearance is called cloudy olive oil. This form of olive oil, popular amongst small scale olive oil producers, is now becoming "trendy", in line with consumer's demand for more ecological and less-processed "green" products.

The remaining paste (pomace) still contains a small quantity (about 5-10%) of oil that cannot be extracted by further pressing but can be released with chemical solvents. This is done in specialised chemical plants, not in the oil mills. The resulting oil is not "virgin" but "pomace oil". The term "first press", sometimes found on bottle labels, is technically meaningless, as there is no "second" press. Similarly the label term "cold-filtered" on extra virgin olive oils has lost any significance since "cold" is not defined and all extra virgin olive oils are extracted without heat.

(Source: Wikipedia.org)

 

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