We begin our olive harvest next month. My colleagues and I at the mill will make extra virgin olive oil 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for about six weeks. It’s the greatest time of year. We pitch in to get the job done. The mill smells of wonderfully fresh olive oil. And, as part of our tradition at California Olive Ranch (COR), the men don’t shave. We remove our beards when the job is completed.
This will be my eighth harvest with COR, and No. 23 in my career. I’m so fortunate to work with the best milling team possible. Before we get too busy, I’ll tell you what we’ll be doing.
My day begins at 6:30 am during harvest. My job is to keep tabs on every step of the milling process, as we crush the olives into extra virgin olive oil. That means we taste a lot of olive oil to gauge the different flavor profiles. Different olives produce different flavors. We’ll separate the various oils so that, later on, we can blend them to create a particular style and flavor of oil. It’s like making wine.
Every truckload of olives – last year we had more than 1,000 deliveries – gets identified when it arrives at the mill. We analyze each load of olives to determine, for example, their maturity and their moisture content. Based on those results, the olives get batched and run on a designated milling line. They stay on that particular line from start to finish.
When we’re at the point where the oil is being separated from the olives, my colleagues and I will taste the oil to determine its flavor profile: “robust,” “medium,” and “delicate.” We’ll taste every single batch and note its flavor.
When tasting the oil, we’ll step away from the line and go off to a more secluded spot in the mill; that way we won’t have other competing aromas in the mill.
You know at the start of the season the oil will have an intense flavor. After some time, the olives still on the trees mature and produce a more delicate-medium flavor. By the end of harvest, the remaining olives mature to their final stage; the oil’s flavor is very mild and delicate.
Once we determine the flavor profile of each batch of olives, the oil is pumped to a designated storage vessel to join other oils with the same flavor characteristics. Our storage vessels – housed in a climate-controlled room – are designed to ensure no light or air come in contact with the finished oil.
It may sound difficult to sort through and separate all the different oils based on flavor. But, after many years of doing this, you can identify the different characteristics and flavor profiles so that as the season progresses, you can pick out the robust oils from the medium and delicate ones.
Come next March or April, we’ll again sample the oils and select the desired flavor profile for a particular olive varietal – like Arbequina – or for a special blend of oils, like our fabulous Miller’s Blend.
During harvest, my day ends at around 7:30 pm. I go home, have dinner, fall asleep in my chair, wake up some time during the night, and go to bed. I awake bright and early the next morning, ready for another great day at the mill. It’s difficult to explain the excitement of harvest; it’s truly a passion and love of the olive oil.
As I noted, I’m lucky to work with a great team. Without them and their dedication to the production of world class extra virgin olive oil, my job would be impossible.