Noise, smell, people, oil and dimly lit. Not quite what is expected. The press is actually a collection of several large machines. The olives go in at one end and come out as oil about 50 meters away!
Sacks of freshly collected olives waited in the doorway on pallets.
Each sack, has the owners name and some containers for the resulting oil. Most people had between 20-30 sacks of olives waiting to be pressed.
If you have olives, they are weighed and you pay for the olives that have been pressed, not the amount of oil extracted. The olives are processed in batches. A short gap is made between each batch.
First, the olives are tipped into a large hopper.
A fast-moving conveyor belt whizzes them up into the first part of the press.
A machine that would not look out of place in a gold mine, removes the leaves and twigs, washes and then shakes the olives. The noise was deafening.
The leaves and twigs are sucked up and emptied out side onto a huge heap.
The cleaned olives drop into another hopper where an Archimedes screw lifts them up into the masher.
The olives are turned into a paste. The machine is so large, that a raised walkway and ladders are required so that the machine can be monitored.
Next, hot water is added to help thin the paste (increase the flow) and heat the mixture. The next stage of the press is much slower. Two identical sets of machines now take the olive paste. This enables two different batches of olives to be processed at the same time.
The olive paste mixture is spun to remove the heaver pips.
The pips fall out the bottom of the machine as a coarse dust. An Archimedes screw set in the floor, takes them outside to a huge boiler and burnt.
The boiler is used to heat the water that is used earlier in the pressing stage.
The oil is further refined in a centrifuge and then pushed through a filter at high pressure.
The extracted oil is poured into a barrel. It takes between 7-10kg of olives to produce 1 litre of oil.
At this stage the quality is measured, by calculating the acidity of the oil. Less than 0.5% acid is considered perfect.
These locals have olive groves above Gaios and wait their turn. From start to finish, it can take 3 hours to process the olives. The machine at one time is able to process up to 5 batches of olives.
Small chalk signs hung on the machines indicate whose olives are inside. As that batch of olives moves through the press, the sign is moved along too.
It's a long process and yet, among the noise, local people still manage to enjoy coffee together and gossip. Olives have a huge influence on local people and play an important role in the Greek diet.
The next time you enjoy a salad dressed in olive oil, remember what it has been through.