Just wondering if the olive oil my mother used in the 30s and 40s was the original "virgin" olive oil -- when did the use of machinery/processess begin which made the oil "non-virgin"????
Your premise has a romantic nostalgia but is faulty. Most of the olive oil made throughout history would nowadays be considered non-virgin. Olive oil was a valuable source of calories and not a fancy condiment. People didn't really care much how it tasted. The olives were often collected off the ground after they had partially fermented. There were no insecticides so olive grubs were the norm. The olives were heaped in piles on the dirt where they continued to decay. They were then ground in a circular trough with a hard to clean stone wheel at ground level in close proximity with a hard-working donkey going in circles. Before it could be pressed the paste was spread on mats made from grass or reeds which could not really be cleaned from day to day or even season to season. Boiling water was often poured on the paste to get more oil out. The resulting unfiltered oil from the lever or screw press was kept in pottery storage jars with loose fitting lids in a hot climate. In the few places where oil is still made "the old fashioned way" it tastes pretty disgusting. Read Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruitby Mort Rosenblum for some great stories about tasting olive oil in Northern Africa. In Imperia, Italy there is a great museum devoted to olives and olive oil, called Museo dell' Olivo. which show the old but unsanitary ways olive oil was made.
Starting about 100 years ago with the introduction of hydraulic presses and then centrifugal extraction units and clarifiers the oil started improving. Steel containers kept out air during storage and glass and tin containers kept the oil from oxidizing during transport to the consumer. Virgin olive oil was more a reality. Bad tasting Olive oil made the old fashioned way from less developed countries was collected, sent to processing facilities in Europe and treated with steam and solvents to make refined olive oil. It wasn't virgin but it was at least palatable.
Today the olives often go straight from the tree to the processing plant in the same day. The oil is made in scrupulously cleaned stainless steel machines with careful control of temperature and oxidation. Stringent laws regulate every kind of food processing plant. It is no accident that today far more olives are turned into virgin olive oil than at any time in the past as virgin and extra virgin olive oil commands a much higher price and profit.
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