The olive mill

The grinding machineThe grinding machine From the simplest methods of crushing olives and extracting oil in stone basins with the aid of rounded stones - as those discovered in the palace and farms of Minoan Crete, which are about 4,000 years old - to the modern centrifugal olive presses, man, in his endeavour to produce olive oil, has used hand-driven, animal-driven, water-powered and, more seldom, wind-powered systems, and since the end of the 18th century, during the industrial era, steam and electric-powered systems. The olives are collected early in winter. In Spain, the men using canes and forming groups (cuadrillas), used to throw the olives from the trees to the ground to be collected by the women and children using special oil cloths. The production procedure in pre-industrial oil mills was divided into three stages: 1) the crushing of olives in the olive mill into an olive paste 2) the pressing of the olive paste inside sacks made of animal hair or fiber (called tsan-tiles in Greece, capachos in Spain, scourtins in France) which produced a liquid containing oil and water and 3) the decantation stage, the separation of the oil from water and other residues. Crushing systems comprised a stone cylinder or upright millstones rotating on a wooden base or on a stone threshing floor (Latin: trapetum = oil press). Compression systems comprised wooden and later iron presses that had the shape of a screw. Oil, which is lighter than water, goes to the top of the tanks to be subsequently stored in earthenware jars or in glass containers. Oil mills were stone buildings of simple construction, with a tiled roof or a loft, and were the property of private individuals, cooperatives or monasteries. Mills served as meeting places in addition to being places of work and were associated with stories, pranks, jokes and songs narrated or sung by workers and visitors before the fireplace, while they were eating snacks with bread dipped in the new olive oil. Monuments of culture, oil mills in Greece, in Alava and in Navarre, in the Basque country, in the region of Nyons in Provence, bear witness to the history of technology and traditional architecture. Efforts are currently being made to protect oil mills and turn them into museums or find a new use for them, ensure the conservation of their mechanisms, and generally preserve the pre-industrial workshops that serve as historical reminders of important elements of traditional communities that are linked together in the European world.

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