I spent about a month and a half traveling all over Spain, and it was impossible not to fall in love with their olive oil. Extra virgin, that is. It goes on everything, and as a vegan, if I couldn't find anything to eat on the menu, I could always count on bread and extra virgin olive oil to get me through.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of an extra virgin olive oil factory just outside of Almeria, near the southwest coast of Spain. The factory was called Almazara Castillo De Tabernas, and our tour guide, Carmen, was super friendly.

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Darya Mack

Olive Collection

She explained that on their property, they grow three types of olives: Hojiblanca, Arbequina, and Picual. These olive varieties are sometimes blended to create one oil, but in other cases are made separately to produce a pure oil from just one type of olive.

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When the olives are in season, around autumn, big machines are sent out into the fields that shake the olive trees. A net is laid down to catch the falling olives. They are collected and taken next door to the facility.

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Cleaning and Sorting

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At the factory, the olives are separated from the branches and leaves and cleaned on a series of conveyor belts. The branches and leaves are then donated to farmers nearby to use as feed for sheep. 

I was struck by the sustainability of this factory – they recycled or found a way to use all of the waste they produced, which is so environmentally friendly.

Oil Extraction and Decanting

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality of olive oil and is extracted only by mechanical means, not chemical. It is unrefined and is not heated above a specific temperature to ensure that it retains all its flavor and nutrients. It has to have an acidity lower than 1% (Castillo de Tabernas boasts that their acidity is maximum 0.1%).

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Before the olives are processed, they are weighed so that the factory can keep track of their collection and production.

Then the olives are crushed to separate the pits from the olive paste. The resulting paste is taken to mixers where the paste is mixed while cold water is slowly added. 

To be considered extra virgin, the olives can only be heated to 81 degrees Fahrenheit maximum. Any higher and the oil would be considered only virgin as opposed to extra virgin. The oil is closely monitored throughout the process.

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Then the mixture is taken to horizontal decanters where the solid paste is separated from the oil, olive juice, and water.

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Darya Mack

The leftover olive paste is sent to other factories to be made into much lower quality olive oil, as opposed to the first, cold-pressed, extra virgin variety.

Then the liquid mixture travels to vertical tanks. A bit of room temperature water is added to wash the oil and to help the oil rise to the top and the water and juice stay down below. The leftover water mixed with olive juice is taken and used to water the olive trees.

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The extracted oil is then moved to these large tanks where it sits for 24 hours. 

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Testing and Bottling

Then the oil is tested to be sure that it has the correct acidity and properties. This oil has very low acidity and a high concentration of antioxidants. Then it is bottled and labeled accordingly.

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Darya Mack

The conclusion to the tour was an olive oil tasting. I tried the many types of oils and blends they had and I was amazed at the fresh flavor of the extra virgin olive oil. I remember actually seeing this brand of oil on the table at various restaurants around Spain which assured me that it really was great quality.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to learn about the way that extra virgin olive oil is made. It really helped me understand the difference between olive oils and inspired me to splurge a bit more for good quality extra virgin olive oil for my next purchase.