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Our area is loaded with olive trees. We have a tree on our property too. Just recently, I bought a 33.8 oz bottle of extra virgin olive oil (off-brand) at the grocery store. It cost over $8.00. The more expensive brands were closer to $14.00. Do you see where I'm headed here folks? It's time to try to make our own!
We set up a grinding and pressing station in the empty bedroom of the house. Here's how:
The sink and counter came from Home Depot. (Makes me sad that we didn't have either on hand, especially since the hubby's profession has him tearing these things out all the time. Oh well.) Together they cost a bit over $100.00 and the time spent setting it up took about an hour, plus, the hubby always spends at least an hour in Home Depot regardless of what he went there for! (I'll have totals for ya at the end.)
The grinder we chose is their top-of-the-line, under-the-sink garbage disposal that can rip anything to shreds. It works wonders and though it was a whopping $300.00, it was a really good investment that will last us a very long time. But it doesn't come with a cord... if you don't have an extra one on hand, you'll have to buy it and wire it in. Another $8.00 and 10 minutes gone.
The press was about $120.00 from Harbor Freight and very easy to put together. (But the hubby is kicking himself because he thinks he could have made a better one for less. Oh well again.) It took about a half hour or so. With just these two things... oil is born.
It took us about an hour and a half to pick a full bucket. In "experienced olive picker" laborer time that would probably be more like 30 minutes. If you have an entire grove to pick you'll most likely want to hire help to do it, and that cost is unknown. (I'm sure that if you have to factor labor in, the deficit bulges out by a lot!) When you harvest the olives, immediately wash them and plan to grind them the same day, or up to a few days later. Don't wait much longer than that since they can begin to rot, and/or the flavor of the oil you produce will be compromised. What a waste that would be!
Our olive tree was busting out with olives but we waited too long. This is the last good one. Olives can be darker green to black* and anything in between... but when they get old and shrivel this much, you'll have oil that quite possibly could be rancid. So move quickly. We ended up taking the ladder to a public area/street corner where there are five olive trees just busting at the seams with fat, ripe olives. They were all over the roadside and nobody cared at all. So we picked our hearts out and trucked home to cold press** them. But I hesitate to add the time it took us to get there and back simply because this is a one-time deal. We'll be using our own olives from here on out.
We laid down a big block of wood to make sure the plastic bin would have a flat surface to sit on.
We used a painters' straining bag to add the mash to and then wrapped it with cheese cloth. Minimal cost, stuff we already had (including the buckets) and so I won't add them in this time.
A block of wood was used to press the mash, so to keep it sanitary, it had to be wrapped in something. I thought that plastic wrap would be a good idea however, it tends to make things slide around (because of the oil) and the bag of mash can end up to one side causing breakage. (Two mishaps and we learned to re-align it when that happens.) If we figure out a better way, I'll post it here.
Down the shoot went the olives. The mash immediately begins to smell like olive oil. (But it doesn't look like it at all!) The step takes no time at all, and before you know it, 1/3 of the bucket becomes about a 1/2 gallon of mash.
The next step was a complete surprise to me. I don't know the exact term for it but it seems you have to reverse emulsion (?) by stirring the mash for at least a half hour to 45 minutes. Afterwards, you'll see pools of oil along the sides which means it's ready for pressing. Don't skip this step... the press won't work otherwise.
Wrap up the mash and top it with the block of wood and get 'er under the press. (see update below)
The hubby cut a hole in the side of the bin to let the oil drain out. It just drops into a jar below. The liquid is a mixture of oil, water and bits of pulp. It is not the most pleasant sight. After several trial runs (and a few blow outs as mentioned above) we decided that small batches like this one is the only way to go. And PRESS VERY SLOWLY. Give the bag a nice tight squeeze to start, then wait a minute or two in between pumps. The entire bucket took the two of us (being the novices that we are) around four hours to press. The hubby's wheels are already turning on how to speed things up.
What you end up with is a liquid that will quickly separate; leaving the oil on top! We let it sit for another hour to make sure it separated completely.
I used a turkey baster to drain off the oil and get it ready to be filtered. The consensus from other homesteaders on the web says to use coffee filters, but we don't have any right now. So I filtered it through a thick fold of cheesecloth... twice. That was about another 1/2 hour all together. Maybe.
Oh baby! Is this a proud moment or what? One bucket gave us just over two (16 oz) bottles*** of oil. Hey, that's what I just bought at the grocery store! So let's break it down and see if it will be worth it after time:
- Set up cost to make olive oil at home - Just under $540.00.
- Continued cost after set up - Minimal. Maybe enough to replace the cheesecloth from time to time.
- The time it takes to make 32 oz - 10 hours with setup, up to 7 hours without.
As stated above, the price for olive oil at the grocery store is anywhere between $8.00-14.00 (plus gas to get there and the added temptation to buy more stuff). We figure it'll pay for itself after doing it 50 times (using averages). And then it's savings time! Is the time it takes to make homemade olive oil worth it? Yeah, you know it is. We gave up the better part of the weekend which doesn't phase us homesteaders one bit. Not to mention the process is healthier and cleaner. Here's why:
- It's organic.
- Because it is made with very ripe olives, is less filtered and is pressed less than commercial oil, it has a distinct "buttery" flavor. Commercial oil is overly processed so it ends up clear (mostly necessary for a longer shelf life). Olive oil connoisseurs from around the world would agree that unfiltered and less processed oil just tastes better. (see this article - Cloudy Olive Oil)
- Commercial processing sometimes can't remove every foreign object like twigs and leaves that make it through. Ew. (What else could be in there?)
*Tip: Green olives will make a slightly more bitter oil. Dark purple or black olives will go rancid faster. For the best results, pick them at their peak somewhere in between.
**Info: We plan to try another method using dehydrated olives and a little expeller I found online. Should be interesting!
***Info: These bottles cost $3.00 each at World Market. I probably should have used a mason jar... I know, I know.
Update: A wonderful and experienced olive oil maker gave us the most brilliant tip - stack thin layers of mash instead of adding it all to one bag. DUH!!! The hubby and I just about flipped out at this, are scrambling to try it out, and will post updated pics asap. Thanks a bunch to all the awesome bloggers and fellow homesteaders for your lovely emails! You make our world go round!
Update: Another fab and equally experienced olive oil maker (who is now making a gallon of oil a week) emailed us these mind-blowing tips - Mix (called malaxation) for longer periods of time on very slow speeds; Press when it's warmer... if pressing outside, do it during the warmest part of the day; Pay attention to the olive types because different olives yield different amounts of oil. Great tips, thanks a billion!
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