Olive Pressing in Malta

I promised to update you on this year’s olive harvest.

If you read my earlier blog — Time to Harvest the Olives — you’ll know that I have 12 olive trees on the roof of my house.

Each tree is a different variety; some are table olives and some are used for oil. The sun dissolved the paper tags long ago, so we can no longer identify which is which.

We carefully fertilized each tree last spring. And I diligently watered them every night during the long scorching Mediterranean summer. By Fall every single tree was heavy with fruit. We decided to get them pressed for oil.

Actually, allow me to backtrack a month or two…

There was a festival in this village at the beginning of September to celebrate the upcoming olive harvest. The town — Zejtun — takes its name from the Sicilian Arabic word for olive. There aren’t a lot of olives grown here anymore, but the memory of these traditions is strong.

On the main night of the festival the streets were jammed with strolling people, and many old buildings had opened their doors to visitors. One, run by the local historical society, had a small display of information and artifacts about a Roman villa that’s currently being excavated just down the street from me. The curator of the exhibit showed us around and explained the history of the villa.

We were examining some shards of jars which had once held oil, and he mentioned that his brother was giving out samples of olive oil for the festival. Talked turned to growing and harvesting olives, and I asked him if he knew of anyone in the area with a press.

As luck would have it, a farmer in a nearby village hires out his press each year to process the olives from other farms and small gardens.

A month or so later, we picked the entire crop by hand, working about 2 hours a day for 4 or 5 days. I didn’t know you could just claw the fruit off the tree with a rake-like tool and gather them up from a groundsheet.

I was in Barbados for work the following week, but my wife searched out the farm and brought in our modest harvest. We were able to get two small jars of oil. Not much compared to what these farmers are growing. But a nice addition to the table — grown ourselves, patiently cared for by me over the past year — and it doesn’t come any fresher!

Here are a few photos of the olive pressing operation. These are olives picked by farmers in the region. But the jar at the bottom is my oil, from my trees.

Olives have oiled the wheels of civilization since Jericho built walls and ancient Greece was the morning news. From the first Egyptians, they have symbolized everything happy and holy in the Mediterranean.” — Mort Rosenblum, Olives: The Life & Lore of a Noble Fruit.

It really doesn’t get much better than that.

This year’s crop of olives, on my roof…

Local farmers bringing their olives over for pressing…

They obviously knew enough to pick them quickly, with proper tools… (my olives filled half a basket, about 6kg)

The olives are first washed and separated from the leaves…

The press in operation…

The scent of fresh olives fills the air as the fruit is ground into paste…

The oil is separated from solids and water using hydraulic pressure…

My oil. This year’s harvest resulted in 1.3 litres. Not a bad haul for the small amount of olives we brought in.

Tasting the oil: scents of almond and fresh grass, with a peppery note at the back of the throat…

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Very cool, Ryan! Hope one day I can drop in so you can treat me to your home-grown oil!

  2. Merci of sharing it with us! Very Interesting and real life story as usual!

    Harry 😉

  3. Erast Fandorin says

    Beautiful! I use olive oil almost exclusively, except for asian food and sweets (though i read something about a roast almond/rosemary/honey parfait ice cream topped with a few drops of fruity olive oil, i must try that one day) – and over the years, i am becoming more n more snobbish about it… yours is pretty great, i guess.
    no olive trees here, but a massive apple tree in our garden…got them pressed, and now we’re blessed with huge amounts of natural apple juice. what is actually the stuff they’re selling you in the supermarkets!?
    cheers
    stefan

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Hey Stefan,

      I’ve got an orange tree in the courtyard too, and it also produced a lot of fruit this year. We squeeze some of it, eat some and use some in cocktails. It’s incredible how sweet and wholesome it tastes. No idea what’s in that crap at the grocery store, but I bet it isn’t food…

  4. I have a big olive tree in our house in Iklin too. The olives are more suitable for eating and I have prepared them after every harvest (every two years as my tree seems to give fruits every other year). This year I would like to try to do oil.
    Could you give the the info of the farmer who hires his press? It is 2017 now… may be he doe snot do it anymore… but I do not how to look for a oil press for small quantities.

    Thank you!

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Hi Maria,

      I don’t know his name, my wife took the olives over when I was away. His farm was on the road out of Marsaxlokk, near where it joins the road to Delimara peninsula (Triq Delimara?). There’s a chapel at the junction, I think it was called Madonna tas-Silg. Somewhere around there. I’d try driving over and asking around.

      Alternatively, you could try asking Wirt iż-Żejtun. They used to have a little exhibit space in the village years ago, a man there told me about this olive press.

      Good luck!

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