How to produce the Finest Olive Oil?

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How to produce the Finest Olive Oil?

Every year, as September draws to a close, the olive harvest season commences, a period that varies from region to region. Several olive harvesting methods coexist, ranging from manual to semi-mechanical and fully mechanical. Olive harvesting is a demanding process that must be mastered to preserve the fruit’s quality. Manual picking is considered the gold standard, but it can be cost-prohibitive. To streamline both time and cost, there are numerous alternatives, including long-handled rakes, vibrating combs, and even trunk shakers.

The olive harvest season typically aligns with the complete ripening of the fruits, generally occurring in October or November, depending on the olive variety and the altitude of the terrain. The harvesting moment hinges on the color of the olives, which should be 60% to 70% black or ripe. The fruit’s quality significantly impacts the oil, ranging from extra virgin with an oleic acid content below 0.8% to oil with a 3.3% content, unfit for consumption.

 

Prior to harvesting, it’s advisable not to water the olive trees, and it’s best to wait at least three days after heavy rainfall before picking. As previously mentioned, manual harvesting, although costlier, is preferable to mechanical harvesting. This method keeps the fruit intact, free from scratches, and spares the fruiting bud.

 

Following harvesting, it’s crucial not to package the fruit in plastic bags, as they elevate the temperature, leading to increased oil acidity. Lastly, it’s best to press the olives promptly, waiting no more than 48 hours to minimize the risk of fruit exposure to high temperatures. By adhering to these guidelines, we can produce a superior quality extra virgin olive oil.

The Art of Olive Oil Production

Olive oil production is a fascinating blend of science and tradition. It starts with the olive trees themselves. These majestic plants require careful nurturing throughout the year to yield the finest fruits. Pruning, pest control, and proper irrigation are vital aspects of olive tree management. To optimize fruit quality, it’s advisable to avoid irrigation shortly before the harvest, allowing the olives to reach their peak flavor naturally.

 

Harvesting itself is a labor-intensive process. Manual picking remains the preferred method, as it ensures the least damage to the fruit. However, it’s worth noting that this approach is both time-consuming and costly. For efficiency, some turn to mechanical options, such as vibrating combs or trunk shakers, but these methods can result in more damaged fruit.

 

The ideal time to commence harvesting is when the olives are fully ripe, typically in October or November. The fruit’s color serves as a reliable indicator, with olives ideally being 60% to 70% black or ripe. The oil’s quality is closely tied to the fruit’s ripeness, ranging from the premium extra virgin with an oleic acid content below 0.8% to oil that exceeds 3.3% oleic acid, rendering it unsuitable for consumption.

Preserving Quality from Tree to Table

After the careful harvest, the preservation of olive oil quality remains paramount. Before the harvest, it’s advisable not to water the olive trees for a few days, particularly after heavy rains. This practice helps maintain the oil’s purity and minimizes potential issues.

 

While manual harvesting is the preferred choice, it’s also the costliest. Nevertheless, it offers significant advantages by preserving the fruit’s integrity, minimizing damage, and ensuring the longevity of the fruiting bud. This approach aligns with a commitment to quality that defines exceptional olive oil.

 

Post-harvest, the olives must be handled with care. They should not be packed into plastic bags, as this can elevate temperatures and lead to increased oil acidity. Instead, they should be processed promptly, ideally within 48 hours, to mitigate exposure to high temperatures that can compromise oil quality.

Nurturing Lebanese Olive Oil on the Global Stage

In Lebanon, olive oil has been a cherished tradition for generations, with olives cultivated in picturesque landscapes under the Mediterranean sun. Yet, the appreciation for olive oil quality is still developing in the local market. Many consumers rely on personal networks rather than stringent quality criteria when purchasing olive oil. They often favor rustic oils with a yellowish, cloudy appearance.

 

On the international stage, the landscape is markedly different. Lebanon primarily exports its olive oil to countries with a significant Lebanese diaspora, such as the United States and Gulf countries. However, beyond this niche market, Lebanese olive oil faces stiff competition. Its pricing is challenged by Mediterranean competitors, and the global recognition of Lebanese olive oils remains a work in progress.

A Journey of Excellence and Tradition

In conclusion, the production of exceptional olive oil is a meticulous and rewarding journey, marked by a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. It begins with the careful cultivation of olive trees, followed by a labor-intensive harvest. The ripeness of the olives, the preservation of their quality, and the timely processing all contribute to the final product’s excellence.

As we strive to meet international standards and cater to diverse tastes, we have an opportunity to elevate the standing of Lebanese olive oil on the global stage. This journey reflects a commitment to quality, a celebration of tradition, and an aspiration for excellence that defines the world of exceptional olive oil.

by Eng. Mounir Abi Fadel

Maryse Bou Zeid

mbouzeid@debbaneagri.com

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