Like sea salt and fresh ground pepper, high quality olive oil is one of the essential elements in any modern kitchen. There are a wide variety of olives, each with its own flavor, that can be combined to create specific blends. This video, from the folks over at National Geographic, shows how modern-day technology uses the best practices of tried and true harvesting and pressing techniques to carefully collect and produce the highest quality available. From cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil to standard grade for frying, this video explains it all.
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Olive oil has become an essential ingredient for health conscious gourmets and can now be found in any modern kitchen. The oil comes in a wide variety of grades and flavors and is frequently found in a green glass bottle to preserve its freshness. Each type of olive has a unique taste and different types can be blended by the producer for an individual flavor.
The fall harvest of olives has been traditionally done with tiny rakes. Slow and labor intensive, this method has been replaced on larger olive groves with automated harvester machines that literally shake the olives from the branches. This type of harvest collects in an hour what would have taken an entire day using the old method.
The olives are washed at the plant and any twigs and branches are filtered out using a special grid that allows the fruit to pass through. To get the best quality oil, the fruit should be pressed as soon as possible.
The traditional method involves a delay in pressing and uses a large grinding stone that crushes both the fruit and the stones (pits) into a thick pulp. The pulp is then placed between large, flat round hemp mats, one over another much like a giant stack of pancakes. The stack is placed in a large hydraulic press which squeezes the oil out as the cloudy, golden liquid we recognize as quality olive oil.
Today's modern method sends the fruit directly to the grinders and the fruit is ground more gently. The finest quality olive oil is called cold pressed and the fruit pulp must not go over 27 degrees to qualify. Heat from the friction of grinding can reduce the flavor so this gentler process helps the fruit retain peak flavor and produces a higher grade of oil.
Modern methods use centrifugal forces to extract the oil through a fine mesh. The oil is siphoned off and stored. The remaining pulp is recycled as fertilizer or animal feed. At this stage, the olive oil can be tasted like wine to assess the flavor and quality. Unfiltered oil is consider the ultimate in quality. Anything that passes through a filter is considered an inferior grade of oil. The standard grade that you find in most grocery stores is stored in large steel tanks allowing the residue to sink to the bottom. The remaining clear oil is bottled in green glass to filter out harmful UV light which can cause it to break done.