Olive Oil – From the Fruit to the Bottle.

olive harvestAs I drive south from Toledo to Granada, the surrounding plains and hills are covered with olive groves signifying that this must be a good climate for growing olives. At one point I see a man knocking down the ripe olives with a stick onto the plastic sheeting laid carefully around the base of the trunk. Several kilometres later, I see olives being piled onto a conveyor which takes them into a press.

I first began to understand olives when I spent time in Morocco almost 10 years ago. It was here that I learned that all olives come from the same type of tree and that their colour depended only on the ripeness of the fruit. I’ve never liked eating olives but I do make use of the oil for cooking and salad dressings. It seems expensive to buy but when you appreciate the work required to produce the oil it can be understood. It can take up to 10 years for an olive tree to reach maturity and start bearing fruit and 4 to 5 kilos of olives are required to produce 1 litre of oil. The olives have to be knocked from the tree, gathered, washed and then taken through a process of squeezing and separating in the mill. The oil can easily be affected by climatic conditions as I know only too well when my oil became an opaque gloop in the arctic temperatures of Avila.

Climbing up through the Gorge of Despenaperros the olive trees still cling to the steep slopes and I wonder how the farmers manage in this terrain. I need a break so I pull off the main highway to some services at the top of the pass which are surprisingly modern. There’s a large self-service cafeteria, hundreds of toilet cubicles, a duty free shop and a ‘Museum of Olive Oil’ which turns out to be a rather grand title for an olive oil shop. I suspect the target audience for these services are the tourist coaches that ply the route between Toledo/Madrid and Granada. Luckily there are no coach parties today, so my visit is quite calm which is just what I need at the half-way point of my 400km drive.

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