Olives have played a small but integral part in world history, yet nobody ever really notices this. Think about it, winners at the first Olympics were given an olive wreath to wear on their heads, we extend an olive branch as a sign of peace, and even Popeye's lanky girlfriend was named Olive Oil. The signs are clear, if olives are good enough for athletic glory, peace, and a belligerent sailor, they're good enough for all of us.
By now we've all heard that olive oil is an integral part of the "Mediterranean diet" which medicine has associated with sensible portions and slower, more enjoyable eating. Studies have shown that those who partake in the "Mediterranean diet" to have a remarkable variety of health benefits. It's even suggested that olive oil decreases the rate of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, it helps lower dangerous blood cholesterol and is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. How about that? A combination of olive oil and a diet rich in vegetables and fish is healthy, delicious, and satisfying!
The Adriatic coast has a centuries old tradition of olive harvesting and processing to reap the benefits of olive oil.
Olives are picked from the end of October to the end of the Christmas period, and there are a few of methods of doing so. Some pickers hack away at branches, collecting the whole thing and plucking olives off one by one later. Other growers use a rake to bring down the olives, or a more painstaking route is to pick individual goodies straight from the tree. The results are collected in a box called a Takalać, which the pickers later sift through to sort out the fruit from the twigs and leaves.
After the harvest comes the pressing part. Literally. Back in the day, the olives would be pressed on a stone wheel turned either by hand or maybe beast of burden. The olives would be set on a mat and put under the wheel, squeezing them to a pulp as all the juicy goodness ran out of them. Today, most olives are no longer pressed by stone wheel, they're drained using hydraulic presses. The rest of the process is really no different from the old school days. The first press yields the extra virgin oil, that is the oil of the highest quality, which must be made from green olives that are not too ripe. Subsequent pressing of the pulp will get you more olive oil, but the quality isn't quite the same as the first.
Some homes on the coast still use a stone basin to hold the oil, but usually it's placed in bottles (glass is the best for the oil) and stored for the coming winter and summer. Once bottled, the oil has a lifespan of about 2 years. A lot of locals in Dalmatia sell their oil to tourists, and it's good stuff. The oil should have a greenish tint and strong aroma. A liter usually costs about 10 Euro, but haggling can't hurt. Get there and buy some home made oil, all of you!This text has been created to acquaint the public with the olive growing tradition - it is not a scientific or expert text.