Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Moroccan olive harvest approaches

Moulay Idriss is famous for its olive oil, and this week The View from Fez visited the town to take a look at the olive press.

Up until the 1920s, there was no electricity in Moulay Idriss, and the whole town was lit with olive oil lamps. The production of olive oil remains a hugely important industry. On the edge of the town there's a community olive press, run by Amin Zalagi. Farmers take their olives to the complex and leave them in a bay to be pressed. It's all strictly monitored so that the press owner knows which olives belong to which farmer.

Amin Zalagi, owner of the press, explains what happens to the olives

At the moment, one month before the harvest is due to begin, the complex is being revamped and smartened up in preparation. Bays have been painted, a new floor is being laid, the presses have been taken apart for cleaning and the underground vats are being scoured.

In any one day, this complex, one of many in the town, can process 14 tonnes of olives to produce some 2500 litres of olive oil. It's best to press the fruit on the day it's harvested, so it's quite a pressurized business.

Nothing is wasted. The stones are sold to the Fez potteries to fuel their kilns, and the pulp left over after pressing is fed to animals.

The Moroccan picholine olive

The average yield is around 20 litres of olive per tree per year. It takes about 5kg of olives to make a litre of oil. If you've ever wondered what the difference is between 'extra virgin' and just plain ol' 'virgin', the answer lies in the time of harvesting. Olives picked at the beginning of the season, in November and December, produce extra virgin olive oil from the green or slightly pink fruit. This oil has a low acidity and the yield is 16 litres per 100 kg of olives.

Later on in the season, in January and February, the yield is higher, about 22 litres per 100kg, as the fruit is riper. However, the acidity is higher and therefore it's known as virgin olive oil.

Hemant Kanakia from Washington DC was with us on our trip. He'd been doing some cooking classes in Fez and came along to taste the olive oil.

'It's the first time I've ever tried olive oil from the press', said Hemant, dipping his beautifully fresh bread into the bowl. 'It's the best I've ever had', he smiled.

For more information on trips to the olive press, especially during the coming harvest, contact Gail Leonard at Fez Food.

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