Chilean Olive Oil: a day on the job

A visit to the Olave organic olive groves and almazara (olive oil mill) prompted this photo essay on one of my favorite products: fresh Chilean olive oil.

Organic olives, Olave Farm, Melipilla, Chile. © 2011 Margaret Snook

It’s autumn in Chile. Most of the crops are in, the grapes have happily fermented into wine, and now it’s olive season. Chile makes some of the best olive oil around, and it goes something like this:

Hand harvesting olives for oil, Olave olive groves, Melipilla, Chile

In Chile, olives for oil are harvested in May and June. Men on one side, women on the other (wonder why that is!) (Notice all the dust in the air after the tree shaking!)

Harvesters begin by laying big plastic tarps under the trees. A small tractor equipped with giant “paws” latches onto the trunk of the tree and shakes it vigorously, knocking most of the olives onto the tarp. The pickers then approach the tree with special vibrating rakes called Olivium to knock the rest of the rest of the olives to the ground.

Lorena drives the tractor that shakes the olive trees. © 2011 Margaret Snook

After working many harvest seasons, Lorena now operates the tree-shaking tractor that they call a "boogie" (buggy). She believes she is the first woman in Latin America to have the job.

Olive harvester. Chile © 2011 Margaret Snook

Olive harvesters. Olave groves. ©2011 Margaret Snook

Special vibrating rakes called "Olivium" used for harvesting olives. ©2011 Margaret Snook

Special vibrating shake-rattle-and-rakes called "Olivium" used for harvesting olives.

Margaret Snook picking olives with the olivium. ©2011 Margaret Snook

I had to give it a try. They strapped the orange power back on my back and handed me the Olivium to shake a few olives loose. (That thing gets heavy pretty quickly!)

© 2011 Margaret Snook

Laugh of the day: watching the gringa try to wield the Olivium.

Olive pickers watching journalists try their job. © 2011Margaret Snook

Gabriela on mini-tractor during olive harvest at Olave. ©2011 Margaret Snook

Gabriela, one of several women who zip around on mini-tractors during the olive harvest at Olave.

Women gather the olives in tarps. ©2011 Margaret Snook

Women gather the olives in the tarps from under the trees.

Separating leaves from olives at Olave almazara oil mill. ©2011 Margaret Snook

At the almazara (oil mill) the olives drop from a hopper onto a conveyor belt and into a machine to to separate the leaves from the olives.

Olives are ground into a paste. ©2011 Margaret Snook

The clean olives are ground, pits and all, into a paste and then centrifuged.

Fresh pressed olive oil. ©2011 Margaret Snook

From olives to oil in less than an hour! The taste is fairly neutral at this point because it still has a high water content. The new oil will be decanted in stainless steel tanks (much like wine tanks), where the water and solids will separate out over the course of a week or so.

Viera Martínez, "frantoiana" runs the mill. ©2011 Margaret Snook

Viera Martínez, Olave's "frantoiana" runs the oil mill. She makes the basic oils that will later be blended by owner Elvio Olave and specialist Mariluz Hurtado. Everyone who enters the processing plant must cover their hair (even the visiting journalists).

Inspecting bottles. Olave olive oil. ©2011 Margaret Snook

Quality control on the bottling line.

Olave garlic olive oil labels © 2011 Margaret Snook

Long strips of adhesive Olave garlic olive oil labels on the labeling machine. Olave also makes basil, lemon, and merkén chili pepper oils in addition to their standard organic oil.

Finished bottles are boxed up for sale. ©2011 Margaret Snook

The final step: boxing up the finished olive oil for distribution.

For more information on Olave Chilean Olive Oils, see their


23 responses to “Chilean Olive Oil: a day on the job

  1. Olive oil has a high level of monounsaturated fats; research has suggested that the oleic acid in olive oil may be linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Other studies have indicated that olive oil can reduce LDL cholesterol and that it may also have anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive benefits.

  2. @Karen- Thanks-yes, not only is good olive oil delicious, but it’s also very good for you. Not often that THAT happens! Tastes so good that it ought to be bad for you–but it’s actually guilt free! One of my favorite treats is to prepare a little bowl with good oil and a bit of chunky sea salt and then dip thick slices of crusty Italian bread into it–Mmmm!

  3. Nice set of pictures! I, personally, knew nothing about how olive oil is made (pits and all, eh?)

  4. @Raúl-Thanks. And yes, they grind it pits and all and then separate them out later, In fact, they have huge compost piles that are basically hills of crushed, dried olive pits!

  5. Muchas gracias Margaret!
    Fue un agrado compartir contigo el viernes.
    El artículo y las fotos están preciosas.
    Un gran abrazo,

  6. Felipe Herrera P.

    The final step: boxing up the finished wine for distribution.

    I guess you meant olive oil, right?


  7. BAH!! You can see where MY mind is!! thanks for pointing that out–I’ll fix it right now!!

  8. Margaret, fue un placer tenerte en nuestro campo El Oliveto el viernes recien pasado. Te agradezco mucho el reportaje y las fotos que están verdaderamente increíbles!
    Un abrazo.

  9. @Gabriel- El placer fue mío. Muy interesante el proceso! Y me alegro que te gustara las fotos. Muchas gracias!

  10. There are some things that are best expressed in Spanish.

    ¡Que riiiiiico…..exquisito!

  11. That is the olive oil I have in my kitchen right now! Very interesting to see the process–great photos!

  12. … oh and I did not see the photo of the gringa with the olivium or the hair net!

  13. Hi Annje! Long time–Hope all’s well with you! You really didn’t see the gringa? Here’s the clue- red hair, corduroy jacket and nifty canvas hat… not the most practical outfit for a day in the orchards! And no–no hairnet shots for me (although, yes, I DID have to wear one–and a face mask too!)
    And yep–it’s one of the oils we use regularly too! (We go through a pretty impressive amount of olive oil each month!)

  14. Great photos!….Was it a hard days work? I hope they paid you by the litro! this where they have their organic lot? Do they produce all their olives or do they buy from smaller producers as well?

  15. Hi Colin-Thanks! A hard days’ work to be sure–but certainly not as hard as those who pick all day! Those Olivium gadgets are HEAVY!
    About your questions. Yes, I’m not sure whether the entire orchard is organic, but I believe it is. And I can’t say whether they buy olives from other producers, but I don’t believe so. Will check on that!

  16. Pingback: Deal Grater » $30 to Spend on Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

  17. Pingback: Chile: A Photo Essay on The Making of Olive Oil · Global Voices

  18. Pingback: Chile: A Photo Essay on The Making of Olive Oil @ Current Affairs

  19. Very cool! I had no idea the olive harvest was so much later than the grape harvest. I also didn’t know that it was such a “quick” process afterwards…or the pits and all… learned lots with this post. And my mouth is watering thinking about olive oil, sea salt and delicious, crusty bread. Add some cheese and wine and olives and maybe something pickled and it’s my absolute favorite snack/meal ever.

  20. Hi Iz (I mean sheabel17)- yes! It’s a very fast process. In fact, I believe that processing within 24 hours of harvest is one of the stipulations for the extra virgin category. If not expressly stated, it at least enters into the equation because olives–just like grapes–oxidize once separated from the tree–so that means that they shouldn’t use olives that have been lying around on the ground (laying the tarp down means that only the newly fallen olives are retrieved) and they can’t pick now, crush later. With olives and grapes it’s a case of the faster the better!
    Viera (the “frantoiana” explained that the decantation process takes 7 days and since the oil floats to the top, the water from the olives settles to the bottom and is drained off from below. I’m not sure how long it takes after that to complete the blending and bottling process, but basically, with oil (like white wine) the younger the oil, the fresher (and more delicious) it will be–which partially explains why most of the oils that come from Europe are rancid by the time they reach our shelves! (That and, well, Chilean oil is just delicious!)

  21. Mmmm. You’re gonig to bring some of the basil oil, right? That’s my favorite!!

  22. Mmmmmm-and who is picking my olives in Chile? No one, I suspect 😦

    Margaret, I ran across this in the local paper here (go figure- Chile is on the map) and thought you might enjoy the photos

  23. Hi Laura- Did you have olive trees when you were here? What did you do with them? I wonder how many people know that you cannot eat olives straight from the tree–ever! They have to be processes with lye first!

    Thanks for the volcano pictures–too bad they over-Photoshopped them. I’m sure they were very impressive images BEFORE the photo editor/designer got ahold of them! I mean Mother Nature and photographers do just fine without Photoshop excess! And I’m not one of those who shuns PShop–it’s a very useful and powerful tool–but dangerous when overdone! (Ok, rant over!)

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