Every fall, we bring our freshly picked olives to McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma to be milled into extra virgin olive oil. On the farm, we pick our 2 acres of olives -- comprised of four Tuscan varieties (Frantoio, Maurino, Leccino, Pendolino) -- into large macrobins. After about 2 harvest days, once 14 macrobins are full (>8,000 pounds of fruit) we drive a full truckload up to McEvoy. Upon arrival at the mill, our olives are pressed same-day. Therefore our olives transition from tree to oil in 1-3 days! This year, between October 31 and November 14, we delivered 7 loads of olives to McEvoy, meaning that we ended up with 7 unique batches of olive oil. In total, we harvested 26 tons of fresh olives, which yielded 860 gal of oil.
Last week, on our final mill date, November 14, some of our team took a trip up to McEvoy to learn about the post-harvest process. When we arrived at the ranch, we were greeted by Lauren in the tasting room and learned some history about McEvoy. Then we met Farmer Ria, who took us through the olive mill to watch our olives be pressed into oil on their blade mill. The entire milling room was misty with oil in the air, which felt luxurious on the skin! Here is a breakdown of the milling process:
- First, the fruit is separated from leaves, cleaned and washed
- Then the olives are ground into a paste in the blade-mill
- This paste then flows into a malaxer, where the paste is warmed and stirred, to begin to separate the oil from the solids
- Next, the paste is dumped into a decanter (horizontal centrifuge), further separating the oil from solids
- From here, the oil goes through a vertical separator to remove the last particles and fruit water from oil
- Finally, the oil is decanted into large drums, which will be driven back to Frog Hollow to be bottled
After observing the milling process, we got to taste some oil right off the press! It was soft, thick and nutty, while leaving a good peppery flavor in the throat. The color was fantastic too, a bright bold greenish yellow.
After visiting the mill, Farmer Ria took us on a tour of their orchards. The main difference between our olive operation and McEvoy’s is that their trees are kept much shorter (to head height), while ours are almost 20 ft tall and we use ladders to pick. McEvoy also uses delicate harvest combs and netting to catch their fruit, while we pick fruit directly by hand and just started harvesting off the floor (using tarps) for the first time this year. It’s always fun to compare growing notes and learn from other farmers!