The harvesters start in sections as they begin, laying down green mesh netting that will catch all of the olives as they are picked off the trees. It’s Saturday, and the workday will begin early in the morning and won’t stop until dusk at The Olive Plantation in Temecula Valley Wine Country.
“When we get to roughly 450, 500 pounds of olives, we’ll start putting them in the mill,” Jenna Kofler, daughter of The Olive Plantation owners Lori and Dave Fenton, said. The mill, which is from Italy, is a large machine that transforms olives to olive oil through an intricate process.
“It first goes into the de-leafer and washer,” Kofler said, adding that air blows through the washer and pushes the leaves out. “Once it goes into the washer and gets washed, it gets pushed up the auger, and then it goes into the hammer mill which crushes the entire olive.”
From here, Kofler said whatever remains seeps down into the malaxer.
“It then creates a paste and will bind everything together, and then it’s in the malaxer for around 35 minutes before going into the centrifuge and the oil will separate,” Kofler said.
“You have to add water because the oil will cling onto the paste, but the only way to get the oil off that paste is to add a little layer of water, which will have the oil rise to the top, separate from the water and then you have like a suction that goes and will obtain all of that oil,” she said, adding that the water and paste remains and is taken out and extracted outside the building.
The Fentons are hoping for around 20 tons when they finish milling.
“We’re planning for 18 days, we should be able to harvest everything,” Kofler said.
“The trees right now range from 9-10 years old, at 14 years of age they should be producing 100 to 200 pounds a tree,” Lori Fenton said.
“Our blend is going to be bitter, peppery, nutty,” Kofler said.
The oil is sent to a lab where it’s tested, she said.
“It’s really fun to get the results back and hear what they think, because we can only understand so much and they’ve been doing this for years just tasting oil,” Kofler said.
They have roughly 12 different types of olives on the farm, though they have found new varieties.
“We have our Bella Di Cerignola, the big olives that are known for being table olives, and then we have our Frantoio which were picked today,” Kofler said of the two olives that were currently, yet would separately be milled.
The Bella Di Cerignola was kept separate, as they were trying to figure out out the flavor.
“It’s so different that we want to make oil that is separate than the other blend,” Kofler said.
The larger olives create more of a thinner, lighter oil that is easier to drink, she said, the taste of the Bella Di Cerignola being easier and more palpable.
The Olive Plantation has milled 2-3 tons in two days. The family, which includes Jenna Kofler’s husband, Hayden Kofler, works together to ensure everything runs smoothly and that they are able to get as much done as they can on the days that they mill.
“Four buckets will fill up after one batch goes through the mill,” Dave Fenton said.
The end result? A steady stream of lots of olive oil.
For more information on The Olive Plantation, visit www.TheOlivePlantation.com.