Thursday, December 12, 2013

Festa d'oli - Olive Oil Party!!

First of all, happy December everyone, and apologies for not dropping by for the whole of November - other projects kept me really busy (yeah, like you've really missed me). Anyway, the cold's kind of arrived, Christmas is almost upon us and it'll be time to say goodbye to 2013 and hello to a new year soon.

I was lucky enough recently to be invited to a "Festa d'oli"  - occurrences that happen each year at the harvest of olives around Catalunya, and is basically a visit to a factory/plant where olive oil is made from scratch. Along with some friends, we went to La Serra d'Alamos which is in the middle of fecking nowhere Tarragona.

We were greeted by a very small queue of people and duly grabbed our plate and headed for the barbecue - apparently common in this type of do. 

*puts on Homer voice* Mmmmmmm.....baaaarbecuuuuuue. Sorry. Ahem. 

It was a bit nippy in the shade but great in the sunshine. So the plant that we went to makes oil only from 1st November until the end of December, and in other periods of the year also makes wine. So, the wine was free on the tables, along with a salad - all good to get things started. 
 List of the different olives from the area which are made into oils, and an informative poster from the Generalitat, explaining the origins and processes of extraction of the oils. Good stuff.

There was plenty of information around along with artisan workers making baskets, soaps, cheeses, etc., and we simply chose a time to have a guided tour around the installations. First up they showed us how the olives arrive and are put on a kind of wire rack/mesh, which vibrates. All the olives fall through the holes, and the branches and leaves are raked away (sorry no pic of that., as it just looked like a metal grid  - and apologies in advance about the quality of these pics, I wasn't expecting to blog this, but as it was so interesting, thought I'd share). 

So Olives make their way up a conveyor belt and into vats. Like this one. 

You can see they're mixed. Next they're washed and pushed through to the next stage. Each part is processed by weight, so when the machine becomes empty/has done its particular job, automatically the next feed comes through (pardon the pun). They then move through a kind of centrifuge which mashes them up - stones and all - into a kind of mushy paste. I was surprised about the stone, as assumed this would be removed, like in tins/jars of bought olives. But "for each stone of an olive, you get a drop of oil" was the way it was explained to me. 

 Above, being washed, and below, the result of the mashing up:

Now, here's an interesting part. This much is then pushed through a kind of sieve, and a "crude" oil comes out (my wording not theirs). The resulting sludge/waste is then separated and SENT TO OTHER FACTORIES TO MAKE NORMAL OLIVE OIL!! It's mixed with many other things and is the usual stuff the majority of us will buy (i.e. the cheapest one). 

Oil goes into another room where it is stored in large vats, and then bottled by hand. So, you can buy the cloudy, crude oil which is full of flavour and basically 100% pure, or if you prefer, you can have it filtered, so it becomes the golden nectar stuff you're used to seeing on the supermarket shelves. Below is the filter:

The different sections in the middle, are filled with cardboard filters (we were shown them , but it wasn't that interesting to photograph). So, you can see in the forefront of the image, the unfiltered oil as it goes in, and the filtered oil going out. I took close ups, to show the difference. Here's no filter/raw:

And here's coming through filtered:

See? Cool, eh?! Production can reach around 80,000 kilos of olives in just that little plant, depending on the harvest. We were shown around the wine area, and although empty, was a great insight - all done by hand the corking, labeling, etc. and the tour finished in the shop. We had already gone with the intention (through the advice of friends who had been previous years) of stocking up for the year, and that's what we did. We got some cloudy oil (has to be used up quicker, as can gather sediment) and then normal for the rest of the year! 

It was a great experience (made better by being with friends, clearly) and there were typical dancing and singing as you would find at a normal Catalan traditional do:

There was a small gathering in the aftermath of a soup tasting kind of thing, but that was nothing to write home about, really, just an added bonus from the villagers. By all accounts there are many such "festivals" throughout November and December, so if you get the chance next year, I'd highly recommend! 

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