How is olive oil made

In the supermarket you see bottles of olive oil, but how is olive oil made?

Olive oil, we almost all use it, but how is it actually made? You can buy olive oil in the Netherlands in the supermarket from around € 6.50 to € 20.50 per liter. But how come there are such large price differences? And which oil do you actually need? After all, there are all different names in the bottle such as extra virgin, virgin, olio d'oliva, olio di sansa di oliva.

In this article from the Gazzetta of Polmone I explain how olive oil is made and how these different varieties relate to that fruit that you can see hanging on the tree everywhere in Italy: the olive.

Olive trees

This is the oldest olive tree in Umbria

Olive trees are beautiful trees that can grow very old. Last year we saw the oldest olive tree in Umbria with a diameter of 9.10 m and a height of 5 m in Trevi. An impressive tree from the year 304 AD. History writes that there were olive groves in Italy around 900 BC and that the oil was so important that it was even used as a means of payment. The economic importance of olive oil for Italy has only increased.


However, since 2013, oil production has been threatened by the spread of the Xylella bacteria in the trees. And for this threat there is actually no other solution than to destroy the affected trees and to seal off an area of 10 km around the source of infection for 5 years. But for many olive farmers that is almost insurmountable emotionally. The trees that must be destroyed are often older than themselves and often provide a family income for hundreds of years. In this way the bacterium is slowly picking up. But science is not standing still. They are eagerly looking for cultivars that are resistant to the bacteria.


How is olive oil made from such a small olive

Fortunately for us in Umbria, the bacterium has not surfaced yet. Last year there were a lot of olives on the trees. However, the final quality turned out to be low. Of every 100 kg of olives harvested, you only had 10 liters of olive oil and the taste was not optimal. That was because the olives were actually ripe in August but could not yet be harvested. The frantoi (= olive oil presses) do not normally open their doors until November.

This made 2018 a bad olive oil year for Umbria. Fortunately, the expectations for the 2019 harvest are good. But the strange thing is that only two types of trees bear fruit this year. An olive farmer whom I spoke about has the idea that this is a consequence of the changing climate.

November harvest month

Everywhere in Umbria there are nets under the olive trees in November

In November, as you drive through Umbria, you will see nets everywhere under the olive trees with people around them picking olives. When the olives start to color purple on the trees, they are ripe and can be harvested. The later they are harvested, the more oil you have. But the acidity of the oil also increases as you wait longer and that does not really benefit the taste of the oil.

We see in recent years that picking is being done earlier in our country in Umbria. The olive oil presses, the so-called frantoi, also open their doors earlier and earlier. Because before you start harvesting you always first make an appointment at the frantoio for pressing your olives. When your olives are picked, they start fermenting fairly quickly and the taste of the oil doesn't really improve.

Olive picking

Several times we have helped friends with picking

Nico and I have helped several times with friends with the olive harvest. It is a big job, but always very cozy. Because while picking, what you do by hand or with a kind of rake, you are chatting with each other. Everyone helps each other. Neighbors, friends and family. At noon you all have a nice meal at long tables. And at the end of the day the digestives come to the table. Of course all made by yourself. And you must taste them all! This makes picking a cheerful and social event.

How is olive oil made

When the olives have been harvested, they are taken directly to the frantoio, the press shop. There they are machine washed and stripped of the leaves and stalks and then ground and kneaded between two millstones. This is where the specific taste of the olive oil arises. The next step in the process is hydraulic pressing of the pulp that is scooped on round mats. The oil that is then formed is still too bitter for consumption. The final step is the so-called centrifugation of the oil. Then the water is separated from the oil and you have the so-called yellow gold of Italy. A nice green, spicy-tasting extra-virgin olive oil!

Olio extra virgin

For 1 liter of extra virgin olive oil, often abbreviated as EVO, 5 to 10 kilos of olives are needed. You can now imagine that your 0.75 liter bottle of olive oil should really cost more than € 5. And if it costs less, it can never be extra virgin quality. But the price depends on more than just the fact that it is cold pressed. The acidity and of course the taste and color also determine the final price. The lower the acidity, the more expensive the oil. Extra virgin oil must always have an acidity lower than 1%. Furthermore, it must never be mixed with other oils and no heat fluctuations may occur in the total production process.

Olio virgin

If we compare the slightly cheaper virgin olive oil then you can see that its acidity is slightly higher, but still below 2% and the taste of the olive oil is still very good. You often find the addition 'fino' on the label, which distinguishes it from the extra virgin.

Olio d & #8217; oliva

The third kind of olive oil that you can buy in the supermarket is the olio d'oliva, a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, olio virgin and olive oil. The oils used for the olio d'oliva are all refined, but have retained their good taste. The acidity of this oil always stays below 1.5 %.

Olio di sansa d & #8217; oliva

Finally, there is the olio di sansa d'oliva, the least loved olive oil in Italy. It is a mixture of different sansa d'oliva oils that are produced by adding solvents and different virgin olive oils. The acidity of this species does not exceed 1.5% either.

Elixir of life

Of course it is best to make a choice from one of the many extra virgin olive oils on the supermarket shelf. The reason for this is that it is the only olive oil where nothing has changed during the production process with regard to the already existing perfect balance between the content of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Praised because this is precisely the reason why people in Italy are so healthy and grow old!

Taste olive oil

The taste of olive oil is partly determined by how the olive oil is made

But the most important thing when choosing a certain oil is of course its taste. Olive oil is very similar to wine in that regard. You should actually taste olive oil just as you will taste wine. To taste the oil well, it is best to put the oil in a small glass that you heat with your hands. In this way, the aromas can be released from the oil.

Then smell the oil just like you do with wine. And then take a sip of the oil. Do not swallow it immediately, but breathe through your nose a few times and release the taste well into your mouth. Try to explain what you are tasting. Is it spicy, spicy and intense or a little more delicate and perhaps also sweet? That way you can decide for yourself which olive oil you like.


Every autumn festivities are organized in the context of the olio novello, the new freshly pressed olive oil of the year. Keep an eye on the hashtag #FrantoiAperti. Many olive oil presses open their doors to the public at the start of the new press season for a tour, tasting and walks through and along olive groves. In Trevi there is it every year FestivOl organized to celebrate that the new oil is back. There is also a so-called in Umbria Strada dell'Olio DOP Umbria. Those are different routes spread throughout Umbria where olive farmers are located. They open their doors between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to introduce you to the production process, they organize tastings and of course you can buy oil from them.

See for yourself how the new oil is made

Autumn is a wonderful period in Umbria. Because this region is the green heart of Italy, the forests in the autumn naturally discolor in the most beautiful colors of gold, yellow, ocher, orange and brown. Wonderful for walking and fantastic to drive through on the way to one of the olive farmers along the Strada dell & #8217; Olio DOP Umbria.
Did you feel like reading this article about making olive oil to come and enjoy Polmone? Then check here if there is still an apartment available for you:

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