The production of olive oil, step by step

From picking the ripe fruit to bottling the precious elixir, making olive oil is a lengthy process. At the end of each year, a community of olive growers in the centre of Provence engages in this time-honoured pursuit centred around the tree that is the symbol of the region.
By Mélissa Darré

Harvest in the olive groves

Immortalized by the painter Vincent van Gogh, the long process of preparing the sweet Provençal nectar begins with picking the olives. Depending on the vagaries of the climate and maturation of the species, this is generally carried out in November on the sunny slopes, windswept by the Mistral. This exceptional terroir has its own local varieties, including the famous aglandau, renowned for both the smoothness and aromatic power of its oil.

This vital step requires meticulous care and is preferably carried out by hand, with pickers climbing on tall wooden ladders or using electric combs for speed. Taking care not to damage the trees or the fruit, they then deposit their loot in nets placed on the ground, before it is sent to the mill.

Harvest in the olive groves
Photography: José Nicolas

Pressing at the mill

Once unloaded, the fresh olives are then deleafed and washed to separate them from their branches and remove any dust. When they are ready, they are taken to the mill where the actual pressing begins. The crushing process, while always slow, can be varied by degrees, as the fruits are gradually transformed into a paste made up of fragments of core and pulp, along with an emulsion of a mixture of water and oil.

Next is the mixing phase. For quality oil, this is performed cold for 20 to 40 minutes. It consists of depositing the olives in a vat with blades, the rotation of which will help to promote the oil yield. Through pressure or centrifugation, the extraction process then separates the oil from the solids, called the 'pomace'.

Le pressurage au moulin
Photography: José Nicolas

On-site bottling

The long process is still not complete – the oil naturally rises to the surface of the must due to its lower density. Today, however, this settling can be facilitated by centrifugation methods, separating the two phases and excluding any impurities to obtain an exceptional nectar (1 litre requiring 5 to 10 kg of olives).

The new European standards now require an analysis of the percentage of acid in the oil. It is then kept in a vat at a constant temperature to prevent oxidation. Last but not least is the bottling stage, with the promise of delicious tastings, when this pride of Provencal gastronomy is appreciated with as much enthusiasm as a vintage wine!  

La mise en bouteille à la propriété
Photography: José Nicolas

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