Some of the exhibitors at the Bnei Darom olive oil festival
I woke up a little late today and am getting ready to take my beautiful 15 minute journey to work. Later this afternoon, I will post the pictures of my drive through farm country and will report on my Moroccan lunch.
We are also going to take you to an Olive Oil Festival that took place this past Friday on a Moshav called Bnei Darom. They are famous for their olives and boutique Kosher olive oil. A Moshav is village that has some shared farming facilities. It is not like a Kibbutz.
Tapenade, who forgot to mention that he is a former journalist for the newspaper Haaretz, talked to one of the boutique olive oil producers who was at the festival and will tell you about in his own contribution later today.
Shemeneto Olive Oil that we purchased.
Shemen means Oil.
Shemen Zayit is Olive Oil.
Neto means Net as in the opposite of Gross.
So the brand name of this olive oil is a play on words. The name means "Nothing but Oil". And that it is.
Shemeneto was one of about eight olive oil manufacturers taking part in the olive festival at Bnei Darom. They're all from the same area, which is basically on the coastal plain south-west of Jerusalem, and olives don't actually grow there: the main olive-growing areas are in the north and in the Jerusalem hills, where the combination of limestone rocks under shallow topsoil and cold winters is optimal for olive trees. But most of the villages in this area between Jerusalem and Ashdod live on agriculture or its by-products, and olive oil is one of the most important.
As I mentioned yesterday in explaining the history of Hanukkah, olive oil plays a very significant part in the festival itself. But historically, it's also one of the most important products of the country: olives and oil have been produced since the mists of time, and when the Bible mentions oil, often in the context of the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple, it always means locally-produced olive oil. Large areas of agricultural land are devoted to growing olives, and there is fierce competition between the growers and also the olive-press owners for who produces the best. On top of all the culinary uses, I've encountered a lot of Palestinians who use it therapeutically: when they have muscular pains or even arthritis, they massage the area with olive oil. Yossi Sberro explaining the secrets of olive oil to visitors at his stand at the Bnei Darom olive festival
Yossi Sberro, the owner of Shemeneto, who sells oil made from the local Syrian and Barnea varieties and also the Manzanillo and Pikval varieties that originates in Spain, explained to us that freshly-pressed oil changes character over time. For the first three months, it's "agressive and herby," to use his words, and then gradually becomes milder until it reaches its best at about one year; after this, it can still be used for about another year, as long as it's kept in cool and dark conditions. The olive press at Bnei Darom
Bnei Darom itself has a highly sophisticated olive pressing plant, which the locals proudly showed visitors to the festival while we were there. Plastic bins containing about 300kgs of olives are first dumped into the hopper of a cleaning machine, which strips off the leaves and twigs and washes any dirt or dust off the olives. From there, another short conveyor crops each batch of olives into a mill, where two vertically-mounted granite wheels each weighing more than one ton crush the olives. The next step is that the pulp, still including all the stones, goes through another machine (they're all Italian-manufactured, of course
), which separates out the oil, not by pressing, as is traditional, but through the insolubility of oil in water. The last part of the process takes the olive pulp after all the oil has been removed and presses into into a solid mass, called gefet
in Hebrew, which can be used to feed cattle; in Talmudic times, some 1800 years ago, it was used as fuel for cooking and heating homes."You want how many hundreds of crates of our oil?" An exhibitor from Kibbutz Yavne indulging in the favourite Israeli sport of talking on the mobile phone
The whole festival day was pretty well organised: apart from the different producers selling their oil, canned olives, spreads and the rest, the host village showed us a very professionally made video about the production process, and of course gave us a chance to browse in the shop next door.The shop at Bnei Darom: olive products in every shape and form
We were actually pretty restrained in what we bought during this little trip: about three cans of different kinds of olives from the Bnei Darom shop, and a couple of bottles of oil from Yossi, including one that is still less than three months old, so the oil hasn't yet become clear. I can't wait to taste it.
Edited by Tapenade, 28 December 2005 - 11:54 AM.