I think you often need to experience things from the ground up to really appreciate where things come from and to celebrate the processes in life; such a cliche… but there is truth to this. I recently got the pleasure of experiencing olive pressing at our family winery, old school style, like we used to do it years ago. We hadn’t pressed in a few years, but our workers remembered it well and were anxious to begin. All hands on deck, workers, family, everyone together, getting our hands in it. There’s nothing quite like the feel of the sweat run down your brow as you gingerly work the thick olive must into the nubby burlap, not considering at that point that its going to soon be oil but just appreciating that very moment of the process.
The harvested olives were two varieties, a smaller glossy black Italian variety and the larger meatier mission olives, which actually produce less oil than the Italian ones. go figure. The olives are loaded into the crusher, which grinds them into must, the consisency of well, something less palatable that I won’t go into. The air in the loud crushing room is thick with the scent of the olive, you can almost taste it. From there, the must is scooped out of holding bins into the burlap and rope olive press mats, sort of like flying saucers, that eventually get stacked in the huge hydrolic vertical press. Once all the mats are in the press, the hydrolic press is turned on and the mats are squeezed tightly to release the precious oil from the olive must. This is a beautiful thing to watch, as the oil drips thick like honey from the mats into the tray below the press, then pumped into tanks. The hydrolics are modern, but otherwise, the use of the vertical press and the burlap and/or rope mats are part of the centuries old process which we still adhere to.
Olive pressing is part of our history at Bernardo Winery. It’s one of the resourceful ways we got through prohibition, making oil from the abundant trees on the property and selling it to the San Diego Tuna canning industries. Italian ingenuity at it’s finest. It’s also about life, to us. Tradition and family and creating things together for all to enjoy.
After collecting the oil in tanks to let it settle before filtering, everything comes to a standstill as we stop to enjoy another part of this beautiful experience. My brother collects a beeker full of the precious liquid gold for us to enjoy with our lunch, a traditional Italian feast of homemade twisted bread (an old family recipe), Frosia, Caponata, cheeses, salami and for dessert, chocolate cupcakes, all made with love by aunt Nina.
Everyone sits down to this meal on this day, family, workers, even the dogs at our feet. The hard labor is celebrated with laughter and enjoyment of a delicious homemade traditional meal. We sop up the unfiltered oil with the warm bread and are thankful for the richness of the food and for the day itself and the good company around the table. This is what it’s all about.