Olive Oil & Culture


Hypogeous olive mill

The olive culture has deep roots in the history passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, in the interrelationship between past, present and future. Olive tree cultivation and olive oil production has been with humankind since time immemorial, according to evidence that provide the artefacts and archaeological remains of the most ancient civilisations. The olive has been an integral part of life in the eastern Mediterranean from the first stirrings of civilisation. Throughout the various civilisations, the olive tree and olive oil have occupied pivotal positions in the agricultural economy of Mediterranean countries and in their commerce with neighbouring populations. The olive tree was a particularly important symbol for the ancient Greeks. Before starting the day's training or competition, athletes would rub their body with olive oil then dust themselves with fine sand. This helped to regulate their body temperature and protect them from the sun. After competing, athletes would scrape off the sweat, oil and sand with a curved tool called a strigil. Then they would be washed using water and a sponge. Olive oil was connected to their diet and their religion, and was used as a decorative motif on vases, in gold jewellery and elsewhere. It was considered a symbol of peace, wisdom and victory. The legendary ancient light of the oil lamp was a main light source for centuries, not only for practical reasons, but also as a part of celebrations . San Basilio the Great was one of the founding fathers of the modern church and the initiator of the Basilian order of monks, one of the most important engines of civilization in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. A Basilian monk community was founded where the San Basilio farmland is today. Basilian monks were the fathers of modern olive growing and olive-oil-making techniques in Southeastern Sicily more than 1,200 years ago. We can affirm that in San Basilio olive we've carried on that tradition of excellence ever since. One of the great symbols in scripture is the symbol of the olive and its oil. The olive symbolizes life, renewal, resilience, and peace and the oil symbolizes purity, protection, health and light. Anciently, much of middle-eastern life revolved around this unique tree with its unusual fruit. People have used olive presses since Greeks first began pressing olives over 5,000 years ago. Roman olive presses survive to the present time, with a notable collection present in Morocco. An olive press works by applying pressure to olive paste to separate the liquid oil and vegetation water from the solid material. The oil and vegetation water are then separated by standard decantation. This basic method is still widely used today, and it is still a valid way of producing high quality olive oil if adequate precautions are taken.

The Trapetum was used in ancient times for the production of olive oil. Broadly speaking, the "trapetum" consisted of a basement in the form of a mortar made of stone called "mortarium", by a stone column or milliarium in the middle which allows pivotal movement, and pulping two molars or orbis held by the central column, which are flat on the inside and convex on the sides and for carrying out pivotal movements of rotation and rendering. The whole structure was fixed by iron plates and pins. The stones were separated by a piece of iron known as "relief" that provided support for them and prevented them from stopping at the bottom and breaking the stones of the olives. Thus, through friction, separating the fleshy part of the olive from the stone. Clear testimony of Salento peasant culture are hypogeous oil mills: human signs and religious spatiality, made of shadows and silence, spaces feel immediately familiar, allowing to relive them intimately in their hearts and minds. The rock crusher allowed to have a temperature suitable for processing olives. The oil, in fact, becomes solid around 6°C. Therefore, in order that its extraction was facilitated, the temperature should be constant. Since the nineteenth century, the hypogeous oil mills were progressively decommissioned for several reasons, especially for the Industrial Revolution and for a more refined and suitable manufacturing processes – so, the hypogeous crushers were gradually replaced by modern crushers.