Milling to Maximize Polyphenols
The essence of extraction: milling under vacuum
Gianni learned his craft the old fashioned way—on the classic stone mill/vertical press system (see Stones to State-of-the-Art)—and then refined it by working with the most advanced machinery in the world. He is dedicated to the art of extraction, meaning the nursing forth of every last ounce of flavor and nutrition that the olive contains.
Our mill is uniquely designed to serve that art. One of only five in the world, and the only one in America, our Culitvar 500 has many advantages over conventional machines, the most noteworthy of which is that it operates under vacuum. In the hour or so that it takes for an olive to pass through a conventional mill, it undergoes tremendous oxidation, resulting in a significant loss of volatile aromas, characteristic flavors and health-giving anti-oxidants (polyphenols). By operating under vacuum—thus dramatically reducing exposure to oxygen—the Cultivar 500 retains these polyphenols, resulting in an oil of greater fragrance, flavor, balance and nutrition (see Health).
Our mill is also equipped with a sophisticated system of sensors that constantly assess the olive paste in its journey through the various phases of production. And, most importantly, it has the flexibility to make adjustments to the working of the paste based on the feedback from those sensors. This allows Gianni to make minute and timely interventions at each phase of the process.
The Craftsman at Work
Extraction really begins with determining the proper moment for harvest. Steven monitors the weather, anticipates its effect on the ripening of the olives and tracks the development of sugar and oil content within the olives over the course of the autumn and early winter. Each combination of location and variety has its particular moment of optimum ripeness, and experience indicates when each variety will yield its most mature, and most characteristic, flavors and aromas.
Some varieties are best green and firm at harvest; others at different levels of color change and texture. With the Cultivar 500, Gianni has the ability to treat each variety differently to maximize quality extraction: this olive needs a faster crushing speed; that olive will benefit from a longer maceration time in the malixer; yet another needs particularly slow RPMs in the decanter.
Every day, the milling team assembles around Gianni—Pablo, Steven, Andreas, Juan, Diana—to critique the oils and discuss possible adjustments. This moment is the most important of all, as it refocuses us all on optimizing quality, and drives the season’s lessons deeply into our collective understanding.
Each year during harvest, Dr. Marco Mugelli either spends a week or two with us, or is on-call while at other mills in Spain, and Italy. Marco is the world’s foremost expert in oil extraction and Italy’s top olive oil sensory evaluation panel leader. He is also the master-mind behind the Cultivar 500. On a typical day, he runs a wide range of experiments, changing speeds and times on different batches; then making a rigorous sensory evaluation of each batch, to understand how each adjustment affected the resultant oil.
Chemical analysis confirms that oil made on this innovative system, and by such attentive hands, is much higher in polyphenols. Sensory evaluation by experts worldwide consistently finds these oils richer in flavor, aroma and varietal character. These oils occupy a quality niche distinct from virtually all others, which earns them a distinct designation: Supreme Extra Virgin.
Malixers gently knead the paste to nurse the oil from the surrounding water and solids. Since these operate under vacuum, we can run them for as long as necessary for the specific requirements of each batch. In other systems, this is where the greatest breakdown of polyphenols occurs. (left photo)
Our decanter is specially designed: as it spins to liberate the oil, it forms a seal preventing oxygen from entering, thus holding the vacuum. The precious oil is then pumped through a gentle mechanical filtration system removing particulate matter that could lead to the degradation of the oil. (right photo)
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