Spanish Liquid Gold
The buying and technical team from The Kerfoot Group have just returned from an annual audit of their key olive oil suppliers. Here they share with us the olive oil manufacturing process as well as their thoughts on the market today. The majority of the Andalucía’s landscape in Spain is filled with row upon row of olive trees which makes for a beautiful landscape, as well as a fruitful olive production. Over 80% of Spain’s olives are harvested in Andalucía and with such diverse olive varieties grown across the olive groves; the region produces an outstanding quality of Spanish liquid gold.
Olive trees are tough, and were traditionally a viable option for areas of land with steep hillsides, poor soil and scarce water supply; unsuitable for much else. The geography and climate is ideal for olive cultivation and with advanced growing systems and improved oil extracting and refining processes, production of olive production has grown considerably to meet both domestic consumption and export demand, assisting Spain with dominance in the olive oil market. During harvest, weather needs to be conducive to allowing the olives to mature to their optimum ripeness in order to produce the highest quality olive oil. Too much wet weather can result in a delay on harvest and damage to the olives. We are currently coming to the end of this season’s harvest and initial figures suggest that the crop is plentiful and recovering from last year’s significantly reduced crop.
Most refineries work with co-operatives of farmers, who may be small 2 hectare farmers, or owners of large scale industrial olive groves. In some cases the co-operatives will own a mill and sell crude oil to the refineries and in other cases they may merely be a method of connection between olive sellers and buyers. It is also likely that very large refineries will own their own olive groves so that they have full vertical integration throughout the whole process, although they will still work with up to 500 co-operatives. The production of olive oil begins at the mill where trucks of olives are deposited into the reception yard. A sample of olives is taken as the truck reaches the mill and according to the quality they are allocated to the specific production line. Extra virgin olive oil is determined by maturity of the olive and picked directly from the tree. If this criteria is not met then the oil is classed as lampante which is from an olive not at peak maturity or from olives that have fallen to the floor.
The olive paste, a by-product from the crushing process of extra virgin and lampante oil, is then processed via a more aggressive extraction process to produce pomace oil. The grade of oil; whether it be extra virgin, virgin or lampante, determines the price that the farmer will receive for the oil extracted from the olive. Crushing and grinding of the olives into a paste facilitates the easy release of oil from the olive. Following the initial grinding of the olives, the paste is stirred for a further is used for a further 20-30 minutes; a process called malaxation. This enhances the mechanical extraction process of the oil as oil droplets join together.
The paste now enters a centrifuge where the oil is separated from the by-products of fatty acids and water and typically olives produce between 16-22% oil from their first press. Extra virgin and virgin olive oil are both refined using a natural process which involves filtering using ‘earth’ to remove impurities. Different oils of the same grade can then be blended so that they meet both the chemical specification and sensory characteristics which suit individual customer requirements. Official chemical tests are carried out by both onsite and offsite laboratories and sensory evaluation also takes place using a trained testing panel recognised by the International Olive Council. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is obtained from the finest varieties of olives during the first pressing of the olive fruit. It is regarded as the premium olive oil with an acidity of less than 0.8%, while virgin olive oil is also a ‘first-press’ oil but may have some organoleptic defects and a slightly higher acidity; 0.9 – 2.0%. Oil graded as lampante, usually from under or over ripened olives or those which are damaged, is refined using a more complex process. This oil is classed as inferior to virgin olive oils and historically was used as fuel for lamps rather than consumption, hence the name lampante. This produces what is classed as ‘refined’ olive oil by a chemical process which filters, neutralises, bleaches and deodorises the oil to remove the defects of lampante oil. This can then be blended in a specific ratio with extra virgin olive oil to achieve a desirable ‘Pure’ olive oil. Pomace oil is produced from the crude pomace mash. Due to the rigorous extraction process that is used; the oil has a more neutral taste although still retains the essential health benefits and properties of other grades. It is particularly suitable for frying as it is able to withstand high temperatures. Throughout the entire process, rigorous laboratory tests are carried out to assess the quality of oil and ensure the oil meets the grade it is classified for. The indoor tanks store the oil in temperature controlled areas to ensure the oil does not spoil until it is ready for discharge and delivery.
From the olives on a tree, to the oil in a bottle, the suppliers’ passion for olive oil is evident from the care taken throughout the journey from field to fork. Their desire to meet specific customer requirements, such as those of The Kerfoot Group, is down to the attention to detail that they possess when it comes to sensory analysis ensuring that the final product meets the flavour, colour and consistency we require. The Kerfoot Group team thrive from working with such fantastic people in a vibrant market who are as passionate as they are and who also cherish a family history in the liquid gold that is olive oil.
Joanne Slatcher, Trader & Sarah Breckon, Senior Group AuditorBack to all news