Medicinal Balsam

Olive in a basket © Michelle Chaplow

Gílded or a soft green, as thick and perfumed as an oriental spice, the unctuous extract of olive oil demands costly investment to ensure its cultivation, harvest and production. The inevitable result is a costly, yet nutritious and therapeutic nectar that helps promote good health, especially with regard the heart and bones. Olive oil also helps stimulate circulation, enhances the complexion and strengthens the hair.

Olive fieldst © Michelle Chaplow

Since ancient times, the olive has been one of the finest examples of recycling and respect for nature. Each by-product can be used; the wood from the tree, the leaves, the fruit and the actual extract itself. Andalucia boasts one of the most important olive crops in the world. Estimated at providing more than seventy million workdays, nowadays it is widely accepted that this region produces 20% of the world's total olive oil production.

The work is arduous

Collecting olives © Michelle Chaplow

Towards December is when the olive crop is beaten from the trees.

At this time of year the olive displays its colour, from green it changes to purple, black or yellow.

It is certainly surprising to discover that the oil can be extracted from the tiny fruit which is far so removed from a lemon as far as 'squeezability' is concerned!

This pure nectar can only be produced in warm climates, such as right here on the Mediterranean. The olive is a fruit that demands impeccable care during the complete process: the harvest, transportation and extraction necessary to achieve oil of only the highest quality.

The olive is as delicate as a blackcurrent.The sting of an insect or any slight abrasion causes acidity, dampness and fermentation.

Once selected, washed and drained, the olives are crushed whole, complete with stone. The resulting paste contains tiny droplets of oil.

Olive fields © Michelle Chaplow

This oil is drawn together and separated from the other ingredients by blending and spinning in a mechanical process completely void of chemicals or heat. In the oil mill which is heady with volatile aromas, the thick golden trickle of this first oil begins to flow.

At this stage, it is vital to employ a series of chemical quality controls which will determine the category and level of acidity so that the analysing laboratory can guarantee the ultimate flavour, texture and aroma.

Following the first press, the remaining paste is still rich in oil and is squeezed two or even three more times. The varying qualities of the resulting oils, also virgin, are slightly more acidic until the orujo is extracted.

Beating the olive tree © Michelle Chaplow

This product cannot technically be considered olive oil due to certain health regulations, even though it originates from the same fruit. This is due to the fact that dissolvents are used in its extraction, whereas pure olive oil receives no other treatment, other than washing, pouring, spinning and filtering.

Olives, like people, are not only of a variety of colours, but some produce very little oil although this is generally of a very high quality. Others are more resistant and productive yet maybe less palatable.

European legislation has established four qualities: extra virgin oil, virgin olive oil, olive oil and the oruja of olive oil.As the connoisseur knows, fine olive oil should be consumed within the first year, whilst its properties are still intact. It should be treated as a fine wine.

This article was first published in the Andalucia Costa del Sol Magazine.

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