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PHOTO STORY: Olive Oil Production in Western Greece

As the sun sets over Western Greece the golden light illuminates the olive wood fires that scatter the mountain sides as the harvested branches that have yielded the olives are cut and burned. 

Last week I teamed up with www.chryssiesgreece.com (who I partner with to offer photography workshops in Greece) and www.discovermessolonghi.com to photograph the traditional olive oil production methods used here and discover a way of life that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. 

Olive Picking in Western Greece

The first step is to collect the olives from the trees. There are 3 main tools for doing this. A short stick for hitting the branches and knocking the olives into a large plastic sheet below, a longer stick for hitting the higher branches. and a rake that you run through the branches like a comb.

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This is nowhere near as easy as it sounds by the way. For a start you have to avoid harvesting the green olives which aren't ripe yet (they will come back for these in a week or so), you are constantly ducking under branches, climbing up into trees to get the hard to reach ones and after you have knocked all the ones you can get into the massive plastic sheet it then has to be dragged to the next tree. 

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The picking crews pile onto the back of pick ups and can be seen all over the area coming to and from shifts. In an area such as western Greece with high unemployment this is welcome paid work for many and pickers travel many miles to get here including from Albania to the north. 

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Long after the sun has set the work must continue. once the olives are picked they are bought to places like this, a family run business run by the Chalazais family of Messolonghi. The olives are sorted on this conveyor belt and prepared for the next stage; pressing. 

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The street outside the Antonopoulos Olive Press, another family run business is lined with pick ups, tractors and cars all filled to bursting point with the hand selected olives that will go into making the region's famous olive oil. 

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Inside heavy machinery first pulps the olives, then presses it before the final product comes out of the pipes at the end. 

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And yes, it does taste amazing straight from the pipe, but for best results patience is your friend. If you can wait a couple of months before using it, it will be at it's best. 

Matt WidgeryComment