By Amy Machnak, Sunset food writer
After picking olives at Valencia Farms, we drove two cars packed with olive-filled crates 30 miles south to Pietra Santa Winery in Hollister. The winery, located in the La Cienega valley, looks like an Italian red-bricked castle complete with a working bell tower and flanked on each side by two imposing palm trees.
Alessio Carli, their wine and olive oil maker, graciously allowed us to use his gorgeous Italian press to crush our olives. A charismatic man from Siena, Italy, with an infectious laugh and an obvious love of his two crafts, assures us that not only is olive pressing easy, but it’s also lots of fun. Looking around you can see why he is so tranquil. The surrounding property, with its miles of birds-eye views is breathtaking.
We arrived in the late afternoon with wide smiles, evidence of our pride of having finally made it to this point of production. Alessio and his team went right to work unloading the just-picked olives from the backs of our vehicles into giant Jacuzzi-size bins.
Using a fork lift, he weighed all of it (turns out we had 1,000 pounds!) before dumping them into a pit on the side of the winery (but not before I snagged a pound or two to brine upon our return to the office). Then the olives were taken via a conveyor belt past a fan which blows away leaves and were washed before being moved indoors.
Next came the actually pressing, although mutilation might be a more accurate description.
Enormous granite wheels weighting a mere 7,000 pounds
turned around and around, rolling over our olives, skins, pits, and flesh included, until they look like what one member of Team Olive called “chopped liver.”
Although the olives weren’t so visually appealing at that point, the aroma filling the room was wonderful and you couldn’t help but be in awe of the size of the machinery and the high-level noise it made while turning our olives into what we could only dream would be the best olive oil ever made.
The circular crushing took almost 45 minutes; then our liver-like olive mush was on its way to the centrifuge. We all watched in amazement as the mixture was separated into bright green oil and ugly brown vegetable water, as Alessio, our trusted teacher, explained the process step by step.
After about two hours, the spigot at the end of the production line started to pour a very thin stream of months’ worth of diligence by Team Olive.
Our goal of making olive oil from our own Sunset trees had been deemed impossible, but we persevered and with the help of some local friends, we finally have our very own green-oil gold. OK, so it’s not actual gold, but it is REALLY green, and most important, heavenly delicious.
Photos by Kimberley Burch, Sunset