In Efforts to Promote Quality, Italy Focuses on Olive Mills

Upgrading technology, improving techniques and promoting sustainability are at the core of efforts to add value to Italian olive oils.
Photo: FOA
Aug. 10, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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Italian olive oil millers are the focus of a new set of rec­om­mended best prac­tices aimed at enhanc­ing milling oper­a­tions and improv­ing olive oil qual­ity ahead of the upcom­ing har­vest.

Unaprol, the Italian asso­ci­a­tion of olive oil pro­duc­ers, and the dozens of mem­bers of the Olive Millers Associated (FOA) said the rec­om­men­da­tions are part of a wider effort to broaden the knowl­edge of mod­ern olive trans­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and pro­mote a bet­ter olive milling cul­ture.

Supporting the olive oil mas­ter pro­fes­sional fig­ure would also mean sup­port­ing the over­all com­pet­i­tive­ness of Italian olive oil.- Maria Lisa Clodoveo, food sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor, University of Bari

The rec­om­men­da­tions come on the heels of an ini­tia­tive from the Italian Olive Millers Association (AIFO) and the National Confederation of Small Enterprises (CNA), which asked the Italian gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment to rec­og­nize the pro­fes­sional sta­tus of the olive oil mas­ter” (Maestro Oleario, in Italian).

Currently, the sta­tus is only rec­og­nized in Puglia, a south­ern Italian region and the largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing area in the coun­try.

See Also:New Financial Aid for Apulian Millers Crippled by Xylella Fastidiosa

However, Maria Lisa Clodoveo, a food sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the University of Bari in south­ern Puglia, recently told the Italian sen­ate that olive millers are a cru­cial node in the pro­duc­tion chain, and the sta­tus should be rec­og­nized nation­ally.

It is cru­cial to acknowl­edge the know-how of the olive oil millers since a bot­tle of extra vir­gin olive oil is much more than just a liter of lipids,” she said. It brings with it the organolep­tic qual­i­ties of the prod­uct, which affect the hedo­nis­tic value of food and the health of the con­sumer.”

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It also brings a series of imma­te­r­ial val­ues such as the ter­ri­tory, the his­tory, the land­scape, the tra­di­tion and the cul­ture,” Clodoveo added. Supporting the olive oil mas­ter pro­fes­sional fig­ure would also mean sup­port­ing the over­all com­pet­i­tive­ness of Italian olive oil.”

Meanwhile, the rec­om­men­da­tions focus on lim­it­ing exhaust gases pro­duced dur­ing the har­vest and cor­rectly using tech­ni­cal lubri­cants on the machin­ery. They also ask for proper main­te­nance of the har­vest­ing equip­ment.

The rec­om­men­da­tions also dis­suade the use of tra­di­tional jute bags for the trans­port and stor­age of olives, with bins being pre­ferred. They also advise millers to use elec­tri­cal equip­ment in their facil­i­ties that are cleaned reg­u­larly.

All sched­uled main­te­nance oper­a­tions, machin­ery greas­ing and mill clean­ing should be con­ducted before olive trans­for­ma­tion begins.

Cleanliness is basic for a high-qual­ity olive mill,” said Michele Librandi, an agron­o­mist, FOA mem­ber and co-owner of the Tenute Librandi olive oil mill in the south­ern Calabria region.

It is also the expres­sion of a cul­ture we are insist­ing on,” he told Olive Oil Times. This con­cept should never be under­es­ti­mated, as it informs all oper­a­tions.”

Librandi added that, his­tor­i­cally, millers viewed olive oil as an eas­ier prod­uct to han­dle than milk due to its lack of bac­te­r­ial charge. As a result, he implied that less care had been taken in han­dling the olives and pro­duc­ing the oil.

A tidy and clean oper­a­tional space is the best busi­ness card for an olive oil miller,” he said.

Librandi empha­sized how the tech­ni­cal courses aimed at olive oil millers are attract­ing many par­tic­i­pants from the younger gen­er­a­tions.

We are see­ing many com­pa­nies send­ing the younger gen­er­a­tions to learn how to make the best use of the most mod­ern machin­ery,” Librandi said. Even if many mills are still for­mally oper­ated by older pro­pri­etors, it is often their chil­dren or younger employ­ees invest­ing time in learn­ing the cut­ting-edge tech­niques and pro­ce­dures.”

See Also:Adding Water During Olive Oil Production Lowers Quality, Researchers Find

In the last few years, trans­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies have under­gone sig­nif­i­cant changes and upgrades, mainly for the press­ing and knead­ing processes, requir­ing a new approach to oper­a­tions.

For exam­ple, Librandi cited the use of heat exchang­ers to max­i­mize yields from olive paste, new ultra­sound tech­nolo­gies and the light vac­u­ums used for knead­ing.

There are sev­eral tech­nolo­gies which are not part of the aver­age mill yet, which are worth study­ing,” he said.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan laid out by the Italian gov­ern­ment is expected to sup­port the upgrade of olive mills.

According to the most recent data pub­lished by the pub­lic agency Ismea, there were 4,470 millers active in the last four sea­sons in Italy, with sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in dimen­sions, treated vol­umes and tech­nolo­gies. Seventy-six per­cent of those com­pa­nies trans­form less than 500 tons of olives.

When we talk about sus­tain­abil­ity and reuse, smaller olive millers could find it hard to improve their oper­a­tions,” Librandi said. We hope our ini­tia­tive will make it pop­u­lar for them to asso­ciate with other small com­pa­nies to adopt the best stan­dards in the indus­try more eas­ily.”

Along with increas­ing effi­ciency, the rec­om­men­da­tions also empha­sizes the impor­tance of sus­tain­abil­ity.

Sustainability for olive millers usu­ally means cir­cu­lar­ity, as com­pa­nies tend to use all the raw mate­r­ial,” Librandi said. While pro­duc­tion byprod­ucts were treated as waste in the past, now oper­a­tors real­ize that the byprod­ucts can and must become a new resource.”

For much of the past decade, millers and researchers have found var­i­ous uses for waste­water from the milling process, includ­ing elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion and irri­ga­tion. Similar work has been done with solid remains from the olive milling process, includ­ing asphalt man­u­fac­tur­ing and bio­fuel pro­duc­tion.

Think of the olive pit as fuel to heat the olive miller oper­a­tion areas or heat up water,” Librandi said. Many olive millers sell this fuel to the con­sumers, who are often the olive grow­ers.”

The non-wooden por­tion of the drupe is increas­ingly used as an ingre­di­ent in ani­mal food,” he added. Phenols and antiox­i­dants in the veg­e­ta­tion waters can also be used as addi­tives for such food.”

Leaves and other organic mate­r­ial removed from the olives dur­ing the wash­ing phase and before the start of the milling can also be used to pro­duce com­post and fer­til­izer. Other organic residue is some­times used to pro­duce bio­gas.

Such a cir­cu­lar econ­omy sees the olive mill at its core,” Librandi said. Milling com­pa­nies are adjust­ing and tak­ing advan­tage of new oppor­tu­ni­ties. The millers should not be forced into one direc­tion or the other. They should have choices to make and see which ones offer more oppor­tu­ni­ties to them.”



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