This Mill Makes 200 Tons of Olive Oil. In a Day.

Behind the scenes at Almazara Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the world's largest olive mill.

Almazara Nuestra Señora El Pilar (Photo: Hannah Howard for Olive Oil Times)
Nov. 29, 2018
By Hannah Howard
Almazara Nuestra Señora El Pilar (Photo: Hannah Howard for Olive Oil Times)

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The first arti­cle in a four-part series on olive oil pro­duc­tion in Andalusia.

To drive through Jaén in south-cen­tral Spain is to expe­ri­ence its vast scale of olive trees and olive oil cul­ture. It’s no won­der they call the groves here the Sea of Olive Trees. In neat rows and over gen­tle moun­tains, they stretch as far as the eye can see. As we keep dri­ving, the olive trees keep going and going.

It’s a team effort. It takes tremen­dous work and invest­ment to do this right.- Paco Corrido, VP of oper­a­tions — Almazara del Pilar

Jaén is home to the largest area of olive groves in the world. Three hun­dred mil­lion olive trees flour­ish over an area of about 2.5 mil­lion hectares, almost 1,000 square miles.

Jaén pro­duces about 40 per­cent of Spain’s olive oil and 20 per­cent of the world’s. The mas­sive amount of olives demands enor­mous and effi­cient facil­i­ties, almazaras (olive mills) where they are cleaned, milled and processed.

Almazara Nuestra Señora del Pilar is the biggest of them all.

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The Almazara was founded in 1966 in a tiny town called Villacarillo in the dis­trict of La Loma y Las Villas with 16 mem­bers when José María Pastor Bueno opened a fac­tory equipped with 10 presses, mixes and rollers. Since then, the facil­ity has grown and inno­vated many times over.

See Also: Gruppo Pieralisi Powers World’s Largest Olive Oil Mill in Jaén

During the 2018/2019 har­vest, 1,709 active mem­bers will bring their olives here to be trans­formed into oil. They include small fam­ily farms and major oper­a­tions that together har­vest 1.5 mil­lion olive trees. In a sin­gle year, they will pro­duce 20,000 tons of olive oil — that’s twice the aver­age annual pro­duc­tion of the United States.

Paco Corrido, Almazara del Pilar’s vice pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions, showed me around the fac­tory ear­lier this month. On November 14, the very first truck­load of olives arrived for the sea­son. The date was unusu­ally late due to a rainy autumn, and so the huge fac­tory was shiny, quiet, and still.

In the days that fol­lowed, that was going to change dra­mat­i­cally. Every day for the next three months, the facil­ity is expect­ing to receive about two mil­lion kilos (2,205 tons) of olives. On a busy morn­ing, 1,500 trucks full of olives arrive for milling. They are orga­nized into 80 lines of recep­tion. In an aver­age year, the mill will process between 70 and 80 mil­lion kilos (between 77,000 and 88,000 tons) of olives.

Our best year was 2013/2014, when we processed 100 mil­lion kilos,” says Corrido. It was his­toric. This year, we’re expect­ing 90 mil­lion kilos. That’s much more than aver­age.” Moderate weather and copi­ous rain made this year’s har­vest pro­duc­tive, espe­cially after sev­eral years of drought. About 85 mil­lion kilos of olive oil will be Picual, which accounts a sig­nif­i­cant major­ity of Jaén’s olive crop; the rest will con­sist of Arbequina.

A Process like Clockwork 

Almazara del Pilar’s new eco-friendly facil­ity was built in 2010 and com­pleted in 2011 (before that, their last major ren­o­va­tion was in 1984). The fac­tory spans 40 acres with a three-acre space devoted to extrac­tion and four ware­houses. Olive trees line the property.

From the trucks, the olives are sorted into 18 lines. Two lines are reserved for olives that arrive already cleaned, the other 16 will con­tinue to remove debris and dirt from the fresh fruits. A trans­parency sys­tem tracks which olives come from which farms dur­ing the entirety of the process. The final prod­uct includes QR codes that pro­vide that information.

Twenty-four crush­ers turn the olives into a paste that passes first through one of 12 mas­sive hor­i­zon­tal cen­trifuges, which sep­a­rate the solid mat­ter from the water and oil, and then a ver­ti­cal cen­trifuge, which extracts the oil from the water. Like a cream sep­a­ra­tor in a dairy, the ver­ti­cal cen­trifuge uses grav­ity to sep­a­rate the heav­ier water from the lighter oil. They remove the last minus­cule amounts of water from the oil.

This state-of-the-art machin­ery cre­ates zero waste. The solid mat­ter is used for energy to power the fac­tory, and the excess goes to feed­ing local pigs and cos­metic prod­ucts. The process also uses sig­nif­i­cantly less water than is typ­i­cally required in press­ing olive oil. Taking care of the envi­ron­ment, leav­ing it healthy for our chil­dren, that is cru­cial,” says Corrido.

The oil is then decanted for 24 hours in 12 gigan­tic decanters. The oil in each decanter gets tasted and eval­u­ated. There are 156 tanks, with a total capac­ity of 17 mil­lion kilos (1,739 tons) keep the oil.

The whole lot then gets trucked to the nearby Jaencoop where it is fil­tered and bot­tled (co-ops like Almazara del Pilar that mill oil are called first degree co-ops.” The oper­a­tions that bot­tle, mar­ket, and sell olive oil are sec­ond-degree co-ops”).

About 90 per­cent of the oil is sold in bulk. The other 10% is pack­aged and mar­keted under the Cazorliva brand. Jaencoop receives its olive oils from 16 dif­fer­ent mills — the largest being Almazara del Pilar. We pay mem­bers accord­ing to qual­ity,” Corrido explains. Because the process takes time, they usu­ally get paid in full about a year after bring­ing in their olives.” They get an ini­tial amount upon deliv­er­ing their crop to the co-op.

Only eight full-time employ­ees over­see this impres­sive oper­a­tion year-round. During har­vest, a team of 45 work at Almazara del Pilar, many of whom are local farm­ers. It’s a team effort,” notes Corrido. It takes tremen­dous work and invest­ment to do this right.” Optimizing every phase of the pro­duc­tion leads to a higher qual­ity prod­uct. At Almazara del Pilar, they have it down to a science.


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