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How it's Made - Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar

Another favorite stop on the Sonoma Food Tour is Figone Olive Oil. They make amazing locally grown and produced olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Once you have them, you won't be able to go back to buying the bulk bottles at the grocery store. Below is a little more detail on how Olive Oils and Balsamics are traditionally made. Enjoy!


The top olive oil-producing countries are (unsurprisingly) all in the Mediterranean region: Spain, Greece, Italy, Tunisia, and Portugal. However, the state of California, with a similar climate to the Mediterranean, produces around 4 million gallons per year.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil available. The oil is extracted by grinding and pressing olives; no other chemicals, heat, or processes are used.

Virgin Olive Oil: is the second highest quality of olive oil, one step down in quality and price from EVO

1. Picking and cleaning the olives.

When growers decide they are ready, olives may be picked mechanically by shakers or over-the-row harvesters, or by hand with the help of various tools that rake or shake olives onto nets underneath the olive tree.

2. Extracting the olive oil from the olive fruit.

After the olives are washed, they undergo an extraction process that grinds them up and separates the olive oil from the olive pomace. The next step is the crushing of the olive fruit—pits and all—into a thick paste that sort of resembles cooked oatmeal in appearance and texture (except it's green or purple). This process can be done by several different sorts of machines

Step 2: Malaxation

After grinding, the olive paste goes into a malaxer—basically, a stainless steel trough with a corkscrew shaped mixer turning along the bottom. This machine slowly stirs the olive paste, which allows the tiny microdroplets of oil to coalesce into larger drops of oil that are easier to extract

Step 3: Centrifugation

The olive paste is then run through a horizontal centrifuge (called a decanter) to separate the olive oil from the water and solids. After processing, the extra virgin olive oil can be finished by either filtration or racking.

4. Testing and bottling the olive oil.

While not technically part of the olive oil making process, olive oil needs to pass several tests before it can be called extra virgin olive oil—considered the gold-standard. flavor defects or slightly increased acidity, it may be bottled as virgin grade olive oil.


Balsamic vinegar comes from an Italian vinegar making process dating back to the middle ages. Traditional balsamic vinegar is made only with one ingredient — "grape must" (in Italian, "mosto"), the sweet juice of freshly pressed grapes — that is boiled to a concentrate, fermented and acidified, and aged for 12 to 25 years or longer in wood barrels. A highly crafted product, traditional balsamic vinegar is produced in small batches.

Balsamic Vinegar usually made with the white Trebbiano and Lambrusco varieties of grapes.

The pressed grape juice (called “must”) cooked in an open vessel for between 12 and 24 hours, at a minimum temperature of 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking continues until the must is boiled down to around 30 percent of its original volume and the Brix level reaches at least 30 degrees.

As the vinegar ages in the barrels, it acquires flavors from the wood, and its acidity mellows. Because the wood is porous the vinegar loses moisture over time, and becomes more concentrated, eventually reaching a syrupy consistency. (type of wood barrels — oak, juniper, mulberry, ash, cherry, and chestnut)

Each season some of the vinegar is pulled from the smallest barrel to be bottled, and then the vinegar in that barrel is replenished from vinegar in the next larger barrel, and so on up the line of barrels.


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