Olive Oil FAQ

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OLIVE OIL FAQ

Is oil made from green or black olives?
All green olives eventually go black. The olives in Spain are mostly green in mid November but by January almost all of them have turned black.

Is olive oil made from the stones or the flesh of the olives?
The oil in olives is concentrated in the flesh not in the stones. After milling, the stones are mostly intact. Stones do not make any distinctive contribution to the flavour of the oil and in some extraction techniques the stones are removed.

What is the difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality and most expensive. Extra virgin olive oil must be extracted using only mechanical means without the addition of any solvents and with a temperature of less than 30C.

Extra virgin olive oil must have less than 0.8% free fatty acid because better oils have a low acidity. Each time an olive producer takes a load of olives to the mill, a random sample is taken and this is analysed in a laboratory. The acidity influences the amount that is paid for the olives.

Extra virgin olive oil must have a peroxide value of less than 20. The peroxide level is an indication of how much oxidation has happened, all oils oxidise but excessive oxidation results in rancid flavours.

In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” the oil must also pass an official chemical test in a laboratory and has to be evaluated by a trained tasting panel recognized by the International Olive Council.

What is the basic process of olive oil extraction?
First the olives are ground up into a paste. This was traditionally done with 3 massive heavy conical stones which were dragged around in a circle by a donkey. One of the cooperatives where we take the olives uses a more old-fashioned technique (click here for more info).  Nowadays,  the olives are ground up using electric motors. Traditionally the olive oil paste was then spread out on circular mats which were stacked in a press and pressure applied to squeeze the oil out of the paste. Pressing the olive paste would now be considered an old-fashioned technique and nowadays most oil is extracted in centrifuge-based systems.

Can I use olive oil for frying?
Olive oil is versatile and can be used for roasting, sautéeing, shallow frying, dressing and drizzling. Since it has a high smoking point (210ºC) which is higher than the ideal recommended frying temperature of 180ºC for most foods, it can also be used for deep-fat frying and many chefs recommend it.

Click here if you would like to BUY OUR OLIVE OIL.

Fullfilment by Amazon – Our experience

 

The aim of this blog post is to chart our experience of selling through Amazon by using their “Fulfilment by Amazon” programme.

Rather than representing a profitable, business venture, it was one long saga involving DELAYED DELIVERY, LOST STOCK, HIGH COMMISSIONS and DAMAGED GOODS. Below I will recount our experiences and provide advice and information about selling through Amazon.

SETTING UP AN ACCOUNT
The first step was to set up an account. You can either choose between a business (Professional Merchant) account or a personal (Individual) account. As we wanted to sell olive oil in the food/groceries category, it was necessary to set up a business account. The conditions were a 3-month free trial period followed by a monthly fee of £25 plus Amazon charges per item sent.

As this was an entirely new venture, we decided to take our olive oil with us to England and ship it to the Amazon Fulfilment Centre in Fife.

CREATING YOUR INVENTORY
The second step is to create your inventory. For this, you need photos of the products and it is important to consider Amazon specifications for your photos (no borders, no text, jpg/tif format, well lit, occupying 80% of image area, etc.). You then need to measure and weigh each individual item and each of the boxes to be shipped to Amazon.

For the inventory, you will also need a UPC/EAN barcode number for each product that can be used on Amazon. There are many websites which sell these. You then associate each product with its EAN number.

LABELLING YOUR PRODUCTS
Each product must be labelled before shipment with the correct barcode for tracking purposes within the Amazon fulfilment centre.

The Amazon dashboard is fairly self-explanatory and you can contact their support line at any time. They generally responded quickly either by phone or email.

SHIPPING YOUR PRODUCTS
Using the dashboard, you next need to create a shipping plan, specifying the number of boxes that you want to send. You can either to arrange collection by courier yourself or through Amazon. I arranged it through Amazon so they provide the labels to print for each box. The total price of the shipment for 7 boxes was £25 which was a lot lower than the quotes provided by the same company on their page. The only disadvantage is that Amazon is the shipper and so if something goes wrong they will only act if the parcel is lost or damaged. In my case, the shipment was due to arrive after 24 hours but in fact arrived 42 hours later. According to UPS terms, I should have been eligible for a refund but since Amazon wasn’t willing to fight my corner I wasn’t given one.

LOST STOCK
The next problem was that when the shipment finally did arrive Amazon lost one of the boxes which meant that 9 litres of extra virgin olive oil had gone missing. They apologised and said they would refund the money BUT it would mean that we would have to wait 60 days for them to do so. Taking into account that the trial period last 90 days, this was a substantial part of it. After 60 days, we received a reply from Amazon about the refund: they still hadn’t found the merchandise and would be refunding the total price per unit minus the Amazon fees. This would be acceptable if we were selling the goods on Amazon, but since we would eventually be removing them from the Amazon fulfilment centre, this meant that they had effectively devalued the lost items from £10 to £5.45

FEES
The dashboard provides an estimation of expected fees BUT I was surprised to see that when purchases were made the fees deducted were higher. There was no way of knowing beforehand how much you would be charged per sale as this was calculated according to weight, dimension, etc. In actual fact, what this meant was that Amazon took 45% of the total sale price.

CUSTOMER SERVICE:
Customer service is good and I would normally receive a reply within a couple of hours either by phone or email.

REMOVING UNSOLD MERCHANDISE:
At the end of the trial period, we decided to ship any unsold merchandise to an address in the UK. It is important to be aware that Amazon require 10-15 days for this. If your trial period began on 6th November, then you will start to be charged on the 6th of the month three months later. First create your removal order from a drop-down tab in the inventory section. Then the day before your trial period is due to end, change your account to a personal one. That way, you will still have access to your account and inventory but will not be charged.

REFUND FOR DAMAGED GOODS:
When the goods were returned, each of the 38 metals cans was severely damaged and dented.

It took a lot of fighting with Amazon to get them to reimburse me for the damaged goods. At first they wanted to refund me a paltry £4.50 per can which was what they reckoned the goods were worth based on market prices, etc. but after much arguing, they agreed to give me £5.45 per can which was what they had given me for the items they had lost at their fulfilment centre. Although this was better than their first offer, I was far from happy with the result as this meant that I had still had to pay them their commission of £4.55 per can for each of the damaged items. To add insult to injury, I had then had to fight to get the shipping fees refunded. I reminded them that when the shipment had been delayed, they had said they would only refund costs if the goods had been damaged, something that was clearly the case now. Eventually, they agreed to the refund. 

CONCLUSIONS
Selling on Amazon has not been a success for the following reasons:

1. Amazon charge excessive commissions on each item: by taking up 45% of the retail price to cover storage, postage, labelling, etc., profit margins are small.

2. Excessively long period of time to resolve the issue of lost items: in my opinion 60 days is too long

3. Unfair estimation of replacement value for items lost: when issuing refunds for lost items, Amazon subtracts their commission from the retail price as though the item had been sold on Amazon (even though no expenses such as storage, postage or labelling had been incurred)

4. Goods in the removal order were poorly and inadequately packaged: items were so severely damaged in transit that they were completely unsellable

5. Unfair estimation of replacement value for damaged items: again, when issuing refunds for damaged items, Amazon subtracts their commission from the retail price as though the item had been sold on Amazon

Cortijo de la Plata extra virgin olive oil

harvest1

See this page for more information about our oil and HOW TO BUY IT.

HARVESTING THE OLIVES
Every December we pick our olives at the cortijo and take them to the olive cooperative to be pressed. Olives can be harvested any time between the beginning of December and the end of March and we prefer to pick ours as early as possible to avoid losing the crop to heavy winds or snow.

Large nets are placed on either side of each tree and the olives are knocked down from the higher branches using long, light sticks. The olives on the lower branches are combed off the trees with long-fingered, olive combs. The nets are carefully dragged down from tree to tree and the olives are bagged at the end of each row. It is not necessary to remove all branches and leaves as these removed at the cooperative. We generally take the bags to the cooperative every 3 or 4 days.

Unlike grapes, green and black olives grow on the same tree: the green olive is simply picked earlier in November.

cooperative2PRODUCING THE OIL
There are a large number of oil cooperatives throughout Andalucia, each producing a distinctive oil. When deciding where to take your olives, you will need to taste the oil that each produces to see which one you prefer. The cooperative we use is the Cooperativa Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro in Diezma in the province of Granada. They produce an extra virgin olive oil from early harvest, picual olives using mechanical means. The oil is versatile and can be used for roasting, sautéeing, shallow-frying, dressing and drizzling. It contains no preservatives and is 100% nut free.

cooperative1WHAT HAPPENS AT THE COOPERATIVE
When it’s your turn, you first empty your bags of olives through the metal grid. The leaves and branches are then removed and the olives pass onto a conveyor belt and up to the weighing machine. As the olives proceed along the conveyor belt, a random sample of olives are collected for analysis. These are sent off the laboratory to measure the acidity level and this is used to calculate how many litres of olive oil you will be entitled to. Generally speaking, 5kg of olives produce 1 litre of oil. You can either opt to be paid in oil or in cash.
There are two way of collecting the olives: “vuelo” and “suelo”. The vuelo olives are collected directly from the tree whereas the suelo olives are picked up from the ground. A higher price is paid for the vuelo olives.

WORLD OLIVE OIL PRODUCTION
Spain produces around 50% of total global olive oil production. This is followed by Italy (15%), Greece (13%) and Turkey (5%).
Italy exports more oil than it produces and imports a lot of oil from Spain.

OLIVE OIL FAQ
See these links to BUY OUR OLIVE OIL and for our Olive Oil FAQ.

Easy way to prepare olives

Olives in Salt

I have had many attempts at preserving and preparing olives but none of them worked very well until I found this simple technique.

When olives are prepared by any method we are basically doing two things. 1. Stopping the olives rotting. 2. Getting rid of some of the bitterness from the olives.

My technique is very easy. Just pick some black olives (the later you pick them the more oil content they have) then put them in a container with sea salt. It is best if the container is totally open at the top and it is good if the sun shines on them to evaporate some of the liquid. Mix them around every few days with a stick or with your hands. At first a lot of liquid collects at the bottom of the container. You can pour this off.

The salt draws the liquid and most of the bitterness from the olives. Eventually after about 6 weeks the olives become totally dry.

Separate them from the salt with a garden riddle or any other type of sieve. After this you have dessicated olives which you can store for as long as you like.

Every couple of days put a handful of olives in a glass jar of water in the kitchen. It takes anything between 8 and 48 hours for them to re-hydrate.  Put a handful of the re-hydrated olives on salads, pizzas or anything you want. If you put them in a bowl and them put a few drops of olive oil over them they taste and look  like the Greek olives I used to buy when I lived in Finsbury Park London.

 

Olive press

I was really excited to find an olive cooperative where they press the olives using traditional methods to make the oil. The oil has a fuller, fruitier taste than other virgin olive oils but is fantastic. We had taken most of our olives from this year’s harvest to the normal cooperative but just found this one in time so that we could take the last load of olives there. Because of the rain, we weren’t able to finish picking all the olives but hopefully they will still be on the trees next time we go up and we can take them here. Here are some pictures of the cooperative with a brief explanation:

 

You park on the right of the grid and pour your olives through it.

You then use a broom to sweep through  any that are stuck on the rungs.

The olives don’t need to be cleaned before they are put through and twigs and leaves are removed in the next stage.

 

The olives are taken up from the pit by the first conveyor belt and air is blown through them to remove the leaves and twigs.

The clean olives then travel on a second conveyor belt to a third which takes them up further and then drops them into the green weighing hopper. The ones in the picture are actually our olives – all picked by hand that day.

Unfortunately the day we went it had been raining so the weighing scales weren’t working as they should have been and our olives only weighed in at 1kg – a bit disappointing. However, having unloaded them by hand and put them through  again it was a relief to see the correct weight on the scales – 370kg.

 

The next stage of the process goes on inside the building where the olives are milled and pressed. During the milling, the olives are passed through three rotating millstones to produce a sludgy mixture. This is then “iced” thickly onto plastic raffia mats.

 

The mats are threaded onto a pole which is then inserted into a press. By means of a system of chains and pulleys, the press compresses the mats upwards and oil comes out through a tap at the bottom of the press.

The subsequent bottling process takes another six months. Our oil should be ready in June and I’m looking forward to trying it.