Whilst visiting the area around Dubrovnik recently, some friends arranged a visit to an olive mill that’s 250 years old. It’s been in the same family for generations and is still very much a family operation with everyone joining in at least part of the process.
They stopped using the old mill in 1996 and it’s now only used as a working museum to show visitors the process. The olives were milled twice, firstly by a horse walking around as the olives were crushed
They used 15 people and 2 horses a day and were able to press 200 kilos of olives per hour (compared to 1,000 using modern methods). The second pressing involved a man turning the press to crush the olives and collect their juice.
You can see why terms like ‘Cold Pressed’ and ‘First Pressing’ were important because the longer the stones were used to crush the olives the warmer they became. When cold it is harder to extract the juice but it is considered the best oil. With modern methods all oil is cold-pressed, using centrifugal force, they are not crushed. And the temperature is maintained throughout the process.
After being crushed twice, the oil was skimmed off the top and the water used for irrigation. The oil was stored for 15 days by which time the best oil was on top, the impurities and water have sunk to the bottom and the ‘mash’ was used to feed the pigs.
This particular grove consists of 90% Obriza olives and they are harvested between October when they’re still green, November when they turn red and December when they’re black. The usual mix these days is 70% black and 30% green to produce a beautiful, smooth oil.
Their oldest trees are 300 years and 170 were lost during the war so they grafted new onto the trunks and they were able to harvest with 3 years. In comparison, a new tree would take 8 years before you could harvest from it.
The town works together to harvest the olives by hand in each of their neighbours’ groves. Olives are picked and milled the same day to ensure that they don’t have time to ferment or get bruised and it takes between 5 and 7 kilos of olives to produce a litre of EVOO. After all that hard work, we were rewarded with this delicious platter of fresh cheeses and dried meats and platefuls of salad green and vegetables, all of which were home-grown. Liberally doused in their EVOO this was a feast fit for a king.
Until next time,