Olives have been one of the most valuable ingredients in the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years - since people discovered how to extract the valuable olive oil from the small bitter fruit of the ancient olive trees.
This oil contains a number of highly valuable, if not essential nutrients, for example unsaturated fatty acids that replaced the animal fats which most people living a subsistence existence on the land could not afford anyway. These also help to reduce cholesterol levels thus preventing heart disease. Numerous other ingredients like Vitamin E, flavonoids, phenols, sterols and carbohydrates also keep the oil bio chemically stable by absorbing 'free radicals' even when eaten and absorbed into the human body. Unchecked, these 'free radicals' are dangerous agents that cause cell damage that can lead to cancer. Consequently olive oil is an effective preventative against cancer.
It is unlikely that the early harvesters of the olive were privy to this much information, but the humble olive tree can certainly claim to be one of the main pillars of the renowned 'healthy Mediterranean diet'.
Olive trees of all ages are abundant all over Ibiza and many are reputed to be over 1,000 years old. However, they are not a crop that offers a quick return and were traditionally planted to provide for the next generation. Their most productive years are considered to be between 25 and 100 years during which time they can produce between 30 and 50 kilos of olives each year.
Traditionally the olives that had dropped during the night were collected each autumn morning when the peasants took their sheep or goats to pasture. If it was a windy day they would take a second tour of their trees expecting more fruit to have fallen. Nowadays, as the flocks of sheep have largely disappeared, you are more likely to see the farmers beating the trees with long sticks and catching the olives with nets spread on the ground beneath.
Since each family would have only a few trees, they would then take their precious fruit to a neighbouring finca that possessed an olive press.
There are two main components to an olive press; the first is the horse drawn millstone with its huge stone trough into which the olives are tipped and crushed into a pulp by the millstone, as it is interminably dragged around by the blinkered horse. The resultant pulp is then crammed into big wicker baskets a metre across, which are piled under the business end of the press.
The press itself is a huge ancient tree trunk well over a metre in diameter and often 20 metres in length. At one end is a huge capstan which two strong men raise millimeter by millimetre with all of their strength, exerting incredible pressure downwards onto the baskets of olive pulp far away at the other end of the trunk.
The olive juice flows and is washed from the compressed baskets into a stone basin where it floats on the warm water and is easily ladled off into jars or bottles. After an hour the process is repeated - the pulp returned to the millstone and crushed once again before being returned to the press. This time for several hours - or even overnight.
The end result of this long day or so of hard graft is likely to be about one litre of oil from every four kilos of olives, which is why 'proper'
olive oil is expensive - but then think of the long term saving on medical expenses using this natural cure?
Unfortunately nowadays most olive oil is made industrially and in most such processes hot water is added to the oil press to increase the flow and hence the yield. However, if the temperature of the fruit and oil rises above 28 centigrade the valuable nutrients mentioned above are lost. Consequently the only way to guarantee that all vitamins, other nutrients and aromatic substances of the olive fruit are preserved is to use the traditional "Es Truy" with its millstone press.
The oil made this way, called "native" oil (Aceite de oliva virgen extra), is truly cold pressed straight from the tree into the bottle, doesn't need to be refrigerated and will last for several years.