In Central Portugal it is olive picking season. Last week we helped several people in our community to pick their olives. This week, it was time to gather up our bounty and take the olives to the Lagar to be pressed.
The behemoth and giant of olive oil production, Spain lives right next door to Portugal. Although Portugal produces far less olive oil than it’s richer neighbour, olive oil is equally an essential part of the national identity and cuisine. There are some ancient olive trees in central Portugal and six regions of Portugal have the prized D.O. certification of production. We were lucky to be picking olives at various friend’s places within one of the six D.O regions, the Beira interior. Some of this large area is made up of traditional olive groves and cork oak estates, really stunning. In nearby Proenca-a-velha there is a centre dedicated to olive oil and the village of Idhana-a-Velha has some trees which are centuries old and a refurbished traditional ‘lager’ press.
We loaded 19 sacks stuffed full of freshly picked olives and headed out early under the stars to the lagar (olive mill) at Proenca-a-Velha. No luck here, the usual press was out of action and this year’s temporary press was for those with a Bio certification. We were pointed in the direction of the lager at Ladoiera. This modern mill is a co-operative, where anyone can bring their olives and receive oil in return.
We joined the queue of flat bed trucks and small tractors, took a ticket number from the reception (a Portuguese tradition) and waited our turn to park up next the grate covered hole in the ground and empty the olives into. The locals praised and congratulated us for our super clean olives as we had cleaned our olives using an ancient separator machine; however, this mill can separate the leaves and twigs from the olives and carry them on a series of conveyor belts to be weighed. So why bother separating the olives? Well apparently you don’t need to, as the machines do it for you, but it really does look better. and historically it was a rite of passage, a thing of pride. Clean olives were always celebrated by the older generation; the cleaner the olives, the better the quality of oil…perhaps?!
From the indoor viewing platform of the Lagar, you can see the whole process. The olives zip along an automated conveyor belt, are sorted and whizzed into narrower and yet narrower pipes. It is then only a short wait to see the 330kgs of olives turned into liquid gold. At that point you can only image how fruity, bitter, mild, peppery, sweet and or spicy this fantastic golden/greenish virgin oil will be. We will find out when we can collect the extra virgin cold pressed olive oil from the Lagar in the new year….we can’t wait!!
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