California olive harvest 2017 – part II

November 21, 2017

 

 

            Milling of the olives began the morning after they had been harvested. The mill, Pacific Sun, is located in Tehama County in the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. For reasons that merit exploring, this region has an established association with olive growing (and so processing). There are many groves in the area and lining the road leading to Pacific Sun are two rows of trees older than any others I’ve seen in California (if not matching the “monsters” of Puglia). There is even a local “olive store” and café called The Olive Pit. I made the trip with Franci Figueroa who was also out visiting from Indiana (and took the photos included here); on the way northward from the Bay Area we stopped at Albert’s grove again and saw it just before dawn, a magical moment. The crew was already assembling for another day of harvest. We were back in the car and headed northward, though, before work began.

 

            Pablo Voitzuk, an Argentinian who started milling in California and honed his craft in Italy, is the master miller at Pacific Sun. We enjoyed a crash course of a couple of hours, but there is much more to learn. The olives are unloaded and the first stage of the process involves eliminating the remaining leaves and twigs and then washing the olives. Unfortunately, washing introduces water which is undesirable so Pablo has installed a blower to dry the fruit. From there the olives pass into the mill (frangitore). Pablo does not use the standard hammer mill but instead one designed by his mentor, Marco Mugelli, in Tuscany: a frangitore a frese, that slices (I think by means of a rotating blade) rather than smashes the fruit, obtaining to his mind a superior product. The speed of the milling can be adjusted and this is one of the many factors that will affect the final quality of the product. The resultant paste then moves into the malaxer (gramolatore) which stirs the paste and encourages production of the oil but also exposes the paste to oxygen. As needed the malaxer can also warm up the paste (though not above established limits) as heat improves yield but eventually also lowers quality. Ideally the paste doesn’t stay in the malaxer more than 30-40 minutes before moving into the centrifuge that separates the oil from the water and vegetable matter. In traditional presses – there is in fact no “press” in the modern process – after crushing (with stone wheels) the paste is spread on woven rope disks that are compressed to extract the liquid from the paste. Some of that liquid is water but as water is heavier than oil, the oil separates after the pressed liquid has flowed into the holding basins and the oil can be racked off. The centrifuge also exploits this difference in specific gravity sending oil, water and pulp out in different directions. At Pacific Sun the leftover pulp is then used as fertilizer, and generally speaking in the modern EVOO world, the pulp serves no purpose. In the olive oil world of old instead, the pulp would be pressed again, probably with the addition of hot water, to extract every drop of oil, though again much of that oil served industrial as opposed to comestible purposes. From the centrifuge the oil passes through a final separator (which removes more water) and optionally through a filter. Pablo is an advocate of filtering; Albert is less convinced of the need, relying in some cases instead on natural settling or separation. The oil is then collected in 55-gal. drums for storage until bottling.

 

            Tasting the oil directly as it came out of the separator revealed the remarkable pungency for which Albert’s oils are known and also a marked artichoke quality. Albert was milling a blend of Leccino and Frantoio olives and that is the character one would expect. We also got taste a Picual that Pablo had milled the previous day. Also complex and wonderful, but very different, more tomato leaf than artichoke. Best of all, I left the mill with a small bottle of each that we will certainly enjoy as part of the Thanksgiving revelry.

            Following the morning’s pressing we headed back to the Bay Area and the next day found Albert and Pablo’s oils (2016 harvest still of course) standing next to one another on the shelf at the Pasta Shop in Oakland.

 

 

            Milling of the olives began the morning after they had been harvested. The mill, Pacific Sun, is located in Tehama County in the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. For reasons that merit exploring, this region has an established association with olive growing (and so processing). There are many groves in the area and lining the road leading to Pacific Sun are two rows of trees older than any others I’ve seen in California (if not matching the “monsters” of Puglia). There is even a local “olive store” and café called The Olive Pit. I made the trip with Franci Figueroa who was also out visiting from Indiana (and took the photos included here); on the way northward from the Bay Area we stopped at Albert’s grove again and saw it just before dawn, a magical moment. The crew was already assembling for another day of harvest. We were back in the car and headed northward, though, before work began.

            Pablo Voitzuk, an Argentinian who started milling in California and honed his craft in Italy, is the master miller at Pacific Sun. We enjoyed a crash course of a couple of hours, but there is much more to learn. The olives are unloaded and the first stage of the process involves eliminating the remaining leaves and twigs and then washing the olives. Unfortunately, washing introduces water which is undesirable so Pablo has installed a blower to dry the fruit. From there the olives pass into the mill (frangitore). Pablo does not use the standard hammer mill but instead one designed by his mentor, Marco Mugelli, in Tuscany: a frangitore a frese, that slices (I think by means of a rotating blade) rather than smashes the fruit, obtaining to his mind a superior product. The speed of the milling can be adjusted and this is one of the many factors that will affect the final quality of the product. The resultant paste then moves into the malaxer (gramolatore) which stirs the paste and encourages production of the oil but also exposes the paste to oxygen. As needed the malaxer can also warm up the paste (though not above established limits) as heat improves yield but eventually also lowers quality. Ideally the paste doesn’t stay in the malaxer more than 30-40 minutes before moving into the centrifuge that separates the oil from the water and vegetable matter. In traditional presses – there is in fact no “press” in the modern process – after crushing (with stone wheels) the paste is spread on woven rope disks that are compressed to extract the liquid from the paste. Some of that liquid is water but as water is heavier than oil, the oil separates after the pressed liquid has flowed into the holding basins and the oil can be racked off. The centrifuge also exploits this difference in specific gravity sending oil, water and pulp out in different directions. At Pacific Sun the leftover pulp is then used as fertilizer, and generally speaking in the modern EVOO world, the pulp serves no purpose. In the olive oil world of old instead, the pulp would be pressed again, probably with the addition of hot water, to extract every drop of oil, though again much of that oil served industrial as opposed to comestible purposes. From the centrifuge the oil passes through a final separator (which removes more water) and optionally through a filter. Pablo is an advocate of filtering; Albert is less convinced of the need, relying in some cases instead on natural settling or separation. The oil is then collected in 55-gal. drums for storage until bottling.

 

            Tasting the oil directly as it came out of the separator revealed the remarkable pungency for which Albert’s oils are known and also a marked artichoke quality. Albert was milling a blend of Leccino and Frantoio olives and that is the character one would expect. We also got taste a Picual that Pablo had milled the previous day. Also complex and wonderful, but very different, more tomato leaf than artichoke. Best of all, I left the mill with a small bottle of each that we will certainly enjoy as part of the Thanksgiving revelry.

            Following the morning’s pressing we headed back to the Bay Area and the next day found Albert and Pablo’s oils (2016 harvest still of course) standing next to one another on the shelf at the Pasta Shop in Oakland.

 

 

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