It was very hot this morning, as it often is in the morning. As early as 2pm a comfortable temperature settles in for the rest of the evening. Then as the sun goes down it suddenly gets quite cool. Even as the sun goes behind clouds, it suddenly feels much less hot. In October we start to see some cooler days and some clouds threatening rain, though there has been no rain so far.
You might be wondering what happens to the olives once they are harvested. The large, unblemished green olives get selected for pickling (‘rseea’ is the word for pickled olives). We’ll come back to the rseea at another time.
The rest of the olives are for delicious olive oil. Each village has an olive press (mazarat a zeytoon). The owner of the olive press will deploy a truck to your home to pick up the sacks of olives. Then they are taken to the press and set on palates as each farmer waits his turn for his oil to be made.
The scene in the olive press is interesting. The room is full of men and boys just hanging out and the air is smoky, though it is unclear whether this is from the machines or cigarettes.
When it is your turn, your keess (bags) of olives are emptied into a whole with a grate on top. The grate takes out any large debris (which is good because I think I accidentally dropped a moshot (small rake) in one of the keess… oops!). Then from the bottom they are lifted out on an inclined conveyor belt.
At the top, they are passed through a strong fan (shafaat) which blows out any leaves and such. The olives are then washed in a vibrating conveyor belt filled with water.
After washing, the olives are sent through a pipe to be ground up. The machine grinds up everything, the flesh, the skins, the pits, the stems etc.
Next they are sent through a horizontal turbine which spins out all the solid matter.
You see a sludgy brown mess coming out of it that is called ‘jifit’. Remeber the jifit, as it will return in a minute.
Then the liquid is sent through a tube to a centrifuge (forazi) which separates the heavy oil from the lighter water and other stuff. The other stuff is sent down a drain, while the delicious new oil is sent out the other side to be put in bottles.
If you put your face near the fresh oil the smell is incredible. The taste is delicious too! Olive oil changes taste as it ages. You can tell a brand new oil because it is green and quite cloudy. The taste is very peppery with an almost sour aftertaste.
Finally the oil is weighed, the farmer pays the owner of the press by weight and home it comes.
On our first trip (there will be several over the course of the season we came in with 15-20 bags of olives and left with 140 kilos (~ 170 liters) of oil. I will try to get the total amount of oil we produce in the season.
As you leave the olive press you see a giant mountain of jifit (the leftover solid matter from the olives) and a bed of leaves.
The jifit is actually a very useful item that is used to heat homes in the winter and is the main fuel for the clay ovens (taboon) people use to make bread. It burns very slowly and quite hot and is very well suited for both uses!