How not to Make Olive Oil

making olive oil at home

So you’ve planted some olive trees eh?  Good for you. Terracotta urns stuffed with marinated olives, virgin green oil and general romantic Mediterranean abundance are filling your thoughts no doubt.  Keep it up, you’ve a way to go yet.

I planted some olive trees seven years ago and last years harvest nearly filled the bottom of an ice-cream container. The starlings ate most of them, their health and glossy plumage a direct result of their olive diet. But starlings aside, after a decade your olive trees should yield an average of 5kg of fruit per tree.  And how much oil would you get if you pressed it?, around 500 ml.  They don’t tell you that when you buy the trees do they? Take it from me folks, growing olives is a long term, low yield, proposition.

If a diet rich in olive oil makes you live longer you’ll need to because you’ll be ancient before you get any.  But don’t let my pessimism deter you. It didn’t deter me. I have astounded myself, and my kitchen appliances, with the lengths I’ve gone to in pursuit of that Mediterranean dream. This time last year I set about trying to press my own olive oil. To press an olive you first need to shred it, including the pits/stones which contain quite a bit of oil. Pits are tough and I can attest to the fact that the following kitchen appliances do not grind them:

  1. food mouli
  2. coffee grinder
  3. food processor
  4. spice grinder on food processor
  5. cast steel hand cranked mincer

how to crush olive pitsI gave up all hope of crushing the stones and decided to settle for removing the olive flesh and pressing that, (let’s face it the reduction in yield from this compromise was going to be minimal).  To remove the flesh from the olives I found the power drill operated Fruitinator was the most effective device.

how to press olive oil at home

Employing my high school physics, I reasoned that oil and water separate and all I had to do was add water and my extra virgin oil would float to the top like a deep sea drilling disaster.  A big jar of green goo ensued and was left to it’s own devices to separate.  It didn’t. The surface was vaguely colored like a puddle on a gas station forecourt. The penguins were safe.

Back to the drawing board. Water was clearly the problem, not the solution. What I needed to do was dry them so that only the oil remained. Then when I pressed the raisin like olives, all they would have left to give would be oil. So I picked another bucket and into the dehydrator they went.

pressing olive oil at home

Squishing the dried olives between my fingers yielded a pleasant oily paste, now all I had to do was press them. I’d read in an esteemed publication that a basket cider press could be used to press olives so I put it to the test.  I can advise that a cider press can be used to squash olives but no oil gushed out to fill the ridiculously large bucket I’d positioned under the press.

As I removed the perfectly intact flat olives from the press I realized my mistake. I still needed to shred them to release the shriveled flesh from the stones. So back into the Fruitnator they went and out came a rich tapenade paste to which I should have added salt, potted up and been happy with.  But no, back into the press it went and now surely the oil would come.

how to press olive oil at home

And it did! A slow seep of green gold oozed across the base of the press tray. It nearly even made it to the outflow pipe. I employed the only kitchen devices not yet used in the project, the rubber spatula and funnel, to scrape up the oil and fill a small medicinal vial. And vile it was. Worse than the worst cough medicine your Mother ever tried to make you swallow.  This bowl of burnt tar and bitters would not be joining dukkah and drinks on the deck.

But although I’d exhausted my olive harvest and my appetite for washing oily equipment, I wasn’t letting go of my Mediterranean dream.  There was always next year and I had a whole winter to plot and scheme before the next olive harvest. First step was the starlings (and no I didn’t put them in a pie), next step was more pressing.

“Bob”, I said, “your press needs more horsepower if we’re to squeeze anything out of these olives”.  “OK” said Bob.  Being the resourceful man that he is he went into his shed and duly pimped the press for me, emerging with a cross between a bondage and discipline device and something you could jack your car up with. Basically, he fitted the press with a 2-ton hydraulic car jack and reinforced the basket with more rings and studs to take the pressure. It was a thing of weird beauty.

olive press with hydraulic car jack

Employing what I’d learned from the previous seasons mucking around, this year I would cut straight to the chase. Pick olives, annihilate with the Fruitinator, pack into the press and Bobs your Uncle there will be oil (for the record Bob is not my Uncle, he is the man who makes the fruit presses we sell). While I was waiting for the olives to ripen I had a practice on some apples with the help of a friend who showed me how to use the jack safely and then I tried it on olives.

As with all product development, there are a few things to sort out. Center aligning the jack required care and when the olives got under pressure they started firing oily liquid out between the slats, hitting everything in site and making noises like someone with a bad tummy upset. An uncontrollable fit of the giggles followed and my “press secretary” moved me and the whole operation out onto the lawn where I couldn’t damage anything except my stomach muscles.

how to press olive oil at home

The yield was a mighty mason jar full of the dreaded green goo but this time, it did separate. Unfortunately, the oil was on the bottom but I siphoned it and got a jam jar of the most lovely honey colored oil imaginable. Definitely worthy of an invitation to my romantic Mediterranean porch party.

how to press olive oil at home

Will we be going into production with the car jack press anytime soon?  I have to ask myself would anyone else be mad enough to wait 8 years and invest $200 in a press to get a jam jar of olive oil when they can buy a liter of it at the store for $8.99?  I think we both know the answer to that.

But that dear reader is not the point is it.   What drives me is a need to have a go and I don’t think I’m alone in that. And anyway, the story doesn’t end there.  Next week I’ll tell you how you DO press olive oil and also how you grow, harvest and pickle them. Then you too can be a Mediterranean porch dreamer like me.  Click here to read the next installment…

 

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21 comments

  1. Loved your humour and your persistence! We have one olive tree so wont bother to go through your processes.
    We buy our local, cold pressed olive oil from the Nelson Saturday Market and love it.
    Keep up the trial and error — it makes for great reading!!!!! Margo

    1. Thank you and glad to give you a giggle Margo. That’s where I buy mine too ha ha – but next year it will be different and we will keep trying. Heather

      1. Im wondering how my oil floats to the top of the green goo/ sludge and yours was on bottom..my neighbor had oil on top and bottom with water/sludge in the middle…how does one go about improving if the substances do not obey the laws of chemistry and physics?

        1. Ha ha Rich – the olives have us beat. Maybe your oil is “light” olive oil 🙂

          1. I have picked 60 pounds of black olives. I have put about 10 pounds in to a press and got very little liquid which is red and does not appear to be an oil. What am I doing rong?

          2. Have you chopped the olives into a pulp first before pressing? Pressing for oil is a two step process. First you chop and mix and then you press.

    2. Only got the one tree. 7 years since planted. 15 olives this first crop. I think the birds can have them.

  2. Hello,
    I have read how to make olive oil and how not to make olive oil. I do not have access to the things necessary to follow the “how to”. Please, how practical or impractical is it to use the fruitinator for the crushing stage? (Batches would be small and “hobby” is emphasised.)
    Thank you.

    1. Hello Grateful Guest, The Fruitinator did a very efficient job of stripping the flesh from the olive stones but it did not crush the stones. To press the resulting stripped olive flesh you will not get a huge extraction without crushing the stones I found.

  3. love that little wine/olive press. Is their a website where can I pick one up like that?

    1. Hi Ben, there is a guy here in Nelson that makes them. Email us and I’ll pass on his details.

      1. Does that crush the pits when pressed or does the fruitinator. Where can I get one like that.

        1. No the pits aren’t crushed sorry and the Fruitinator is sadly not in production now but a paint stirrer on a drill will have the same effect.

  4. Thank you for this article. It was absolutely hilarious and I loved reading it. What persistence you have! I’m very happy that you did at least end up with a little something tasty & delicious after all your intense efforts & determination. I’m also glad you took the time to write about this and can’t believe how hard I laughed while reading it. I’m going to go and read your next installment now, but can’t definitely say I will NOT be attempting this myself, lol! Thanks again for the insight and the humor!

    1. Thanks Vee, very wise not to attempt it!

  5. Roderick P Cunliffe

    Tears of laughter rolled down our cheeks, thank you for sharing your olive oil journey with us. We have 12 x 8 year old olive trees and this year our first harvest. We are still keen to find this extra virgin. Rod

    1. Excellent Rod, then some good has come from my olive antics. When you find it let me know. H.

  6. Sounds very similar to the process my wife and I went through to raise chickens to get organic eggs. It was quite an experience, and while we loved our chickens, but by the time all was done and said and bought, four dollars per egg seemed a little steep.

    1. He he Robert, yes I’ve been there too – the lovely eggs are nearly compensation for the cost.

  7. I think that we will continue to buy our oil at the supermarket, basically because we have only three trees. Our first crop we picked green (large olives) and even these have been pleasant to eat when after a year they were baked with spices. Thoroughly recommend this but black olives would be better.
    Loved your description of the process. I will have to see if my fiends at the Waimea men’s shed have sufficient olive trees between them to develop a press along the lines that you have shown.

    1. Power to your elbow John and all the elbows at the Mens shed – if you can come up with a press I’ll volunteer to test it.

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