Oil Master Millers: devotion to olive juice

In order to obtain a high quality extra virgin olive oil, the coordinated participation of a large number of professionals is essential. Giving the best of each one at each stage is the only way to achieve excellence. From the farmer who cares for and pampers his olive trees to the person in charge of the industrial plant where the olive juice is packaged so that it reaches homes, there are several key phases in this process. Among them is the figure of the oil master miller, who is primarily responsible for optimally extracting the olive juice, transferring the quality of a healthy fruit to its juice, to the extra virgin olive oil.

With this space we want to pay tribute to this key figure in the associated oil mills and continue learning about olive culture and the secrets behind a high quality extra virgin olive oil.


Francisco Jesús Berral Torres

Oil master miller at cooperative Olivarera Pontanense de Puente Genil (Córdoba).

Francisco Jesús Berral Torres, Oil Master Miller at cooperative Olivarera Pontanense de Puente Genil (Córdoba).

With this campaign just finished, Francis, as he is known by his friends and family, has been directing the associated mill in Puente Genil for more than fifteen years. But there are many more linked to the world of the olive grove. “I come from a family linked to the cooperative world of the olive grove, oil runs through our veins,” says Francisco.

In his childhood memories, agriculture and the olive grove are always present, and he gets excited when he remembers that in the afternoons he used to accompany his father in the tractor to the cooperative and “the joy he took me when the old teacher, Marcos, gave him steel rollers to play with the skateboards”.

Before becoming a master, he started as a maintenance worker, learning all the secrets of extra virgin olive oil production from the old master and the extreme care with the machinery. Outside the campaign he combined this work with the maintenance of the cooperative, which helped him to know deeply all the technical issues of the mill.

During the campaign he focuses his attention on the control of the olives from the moment he empties the trailer until the oil leaves the cellar for bottling, confessing that the most complicated part is the reception, since “I still have to explain to some farmers the importance of bringing the olives unpolluted; fortunately there are fewer and fewer of them”.

He considers that to be an oil mill master, continuous training is crucial, in order to keep abreast of the latest technical innovations. As a restless person and lover of everything that surrounds extra virgin olive oil, he takes advantage of all training opportunities in the form of courses, workshops, presentations and technical forums to keep up to date. She emphasizes how the culture of excellence is internalized in the Oleoestepa masters. “There is a very healthy competition among us to achieve the best olive juices and when we leave our environment, we realize that not everyone has the same vision and dedication.” In this regard, he tells us the anecdote of attending a course for teachers in which the practices of the oil mills associated with Oleoestepa were always used as an example.

Finally, he tells us a story that he still remembers with displeasure and sadness, the day the mill was robbed of 5 trucks of extra virgin olive oil, 128,000 kg, and with joy, he points out that “the oil was stolen from the mill, 5 trucks of extra virgin olive oil. And with joy, he points out that “when we have received awards it is a reward for all the sacrifice we make and it helps us to reinforce our commitment to excellence, it is worth it”.

Manuel Fernández Fuentes

Oil mill master of the cooperative associated Agrícola de El Rubio (Seville).

Jesús Ramos Jiménez, oil master mill cooperative associated Agrícola de El Rubio.

Just with the completion of a training cycle of oil production and extraction and practices in another associated mill, he had the opportunity to start his professional activity as a miller in the associated cooperative of El Rubio in the campaign 2004/05. That campaign was special because all his colleagues were new. Jesús recalls that “although they could not count on the support of the experience of old technicians, we made up for it with a lot of enthusiasm and commitment. It was hard, but together we set the new production project in motion”.

He considers training to be key to this project. He recognizes that “although experience is important, it is essential to be up to date with the latest developments; in addition, Oleoestepa’s technical courses allow us to share experiences and learn from the experiences of other masters”.

During the campaign, he focuses all his attention on supervising all the factors that determine the quality of the resulting juice: the condition of the olives received, machinery, indicators, etc. He confesses that “he is very well supported in this task by all his colleagues, because we are all clear about what needs to be done to achieve quality and we are all working together”.  Because they have recently increased the milling capacity, the olives that enter the cooperative are in the torva less than 24 hours. Because the speed with which the extra virgin olive oil is extracted from the olives is fundamental, he explains to us that the milling ends every day around 4 or 5 in the morning, and then they have to get down to cleaning and leave everything ready for the next day, “there are even days that we don’t stop, we are there 24 hours, it depends on the amount of olives that come in that day.”

He tells us that for his cooperative the best way to classify the olives is by varieties, since all the olives of the same variety are in a similar state and this allows him to know that all the juice obtained is going to have the same quality.

He proudly affirms that all the farmers who are members of the cooperative are very aware that “things have to be done well from the field”, because as Jesús tells us the cooperatives do not have a magic wand to be able to extract a good olive oil from a bad fruit.

When the campaign is over, they start with the cleaning of the mill and the assembly in the factory. It is essential to leave everything ready for the next campaign.

In his opinion, although there are several factors to achieve a high quality extra virgin olive oil, Jesús focuses on time: “the less hours the olives are in the mill, the better”.

Finally, he confesses that being an oil miller master is a vocation, because “you have to dedicate a lot of time and many hours that you take away from your family and friends”.

Manuel Fernández Fuentes

Oil mill master of the cooperative Olivarera de Nuestra Señora de la Paz in Estepa (Seville).

Manuel Fernández Fuentes, master of the oil master miller at the associated cooperative Nuestra Señora de la Paz in Estepa (Seville).

In 1999 he began to carry out the work previously carried out by his father. He recalls that his first days were very difficult until he managed to adapt to the responsibility of his job.

In his opinion, the most important thing to obtain a high quality extra virgin olive oil is to keep the temperature under control at all times, to ensure that no emulsions are produced in the mixer and to carry out a good separation.

During these more than 20 years of experience as an oil master miller master, he emphasizes that the most revolutionary moment was the change from hydraulic presses to the current continuous lines. “With the old system of hydraulic presses, the olives were in the hoppers for a longer period of time, which was heating and stunting the fruit, resulting in oils of poorer quality,” Manuel points out.  The incorporation of the latest technology machinery that allows continuous extraction of the olive juice has meant a faster and cleaner process and, consequently, “a very significant help to obtain a higher quality extra virgin olive oil”.

His years of experience have also shown him that it is essential to have knowledge of oil tasting. “Identifying smells and flavors, and knowing how to classify extra virgin olive oils according to their qualities is key to avoid mixing worse oils with better ones” Manuel points out. Being a member of the Oleoestepa tasting panel has allowed him to taste a multitude of oils, of different varieties and origins, confirming the great complexity and richness of flavors and smells of olive juice.

Finally, Manuel confesses that in his day to day life what he likes most is to be in the day to day production of extra virgin olive oil, enjoying all the tasks involved in achieving an extra virgin olive oil of the highest quality.

José Jesús Marín Pozo

Oil mill master of the Cooperativa Olivarera de Casariche (Seville).

José Jesús Marín Pozo, oil master mill of the Cooperativa Olivarera de Casariche.

José Jesús, better known as “Pepe”, has been in charge of the mill for 20 years. But his link with the associated cooperative of Casariche is more extensive, since he began working in 1988, almost 35 campaigns ago. Throughout this period he has held all the positions in the cooperative, from working in the area of olive reception and cleaning of the mill to becoming master of the mill, a position he currently holds. “A professional who has carried out all the tasks has the privilege of having an integral vision of the entire production process, which allows him to propose solutions that go beyond my specific work,” Pepe points out.

In describing his work as a master, he points out that, although there is an important peak of work during the campaign, after it begins what we call the “quiet” work: cleaning and maintenance of the machinery. “This work is key to have a campaign without scares in the plant and to achieve the highest quality oil,” says Pepe.

Looking back, he is struck by how much things have changed over the years, how technology has been introduced in the mill, facilitating production and allowing higher yields and better quality. This technology has also meant a necessary professionalization of the team in charge of the mill and of the farmers. In this sense, he still remembers how the olives were piled on the ground and left for several days. On the other hand, “now we clean everything with great tenacity so that the fruit arrives in perfect condition and we obtain the highest quality extra virgin olive oil,” says Pepe.

He recalls with a certain nostalgia that when he arrived at the cooperative there were no decanters, since the first ones were installed in 1989, “while I was doing my military service”. There was also no weighing program, so they had to weigh, unload and reweigh the tractors to calculate the difference. Of course, there were also no washing machines, and many other technologies that today are essential to extract the juice from the olives with the highest possible quality. He even recounts how some farmers used to transport the olives in sacks, realizing that “it is impressive the change that has taken place in the cooperative since I started working here”.

“Before, the objective was to obtain the maximum olive oil possible, but nowadays the focus is on quality”, Pepe points out, and he considers that these changes go hand in hand with technology, since technological improvements have improved olive yields and have favored the prioritization of quality over quantity.

Although today we all understand that these changes have been positive and favorable, Pepe tells us that there were many people who were against them at the time. And the fact is that change is always hard. Little by little, with the imposition of Oleoestepa’s internal rules and with generational changes, all these changes were assimilated and accepted, making today’s olive mill possible.

In addition to all these changes, Pepe also talks to us about extra virgin olive oil and affirms that it is essential that the fruit is healthy and clean. Also the cleanliness of all the places where the fruit has to pass through, i.e., the conveyor belt, pipes, mill, etc., and of course, a good adjustment of decants to avoid spoiling the mass.

He also highlights the importance of correctly classifying the oils, because “although all olive oils are extra virgin, we can find more or less quality, and it is very important to have trained personnel to be able to correctly classify the oils, which is why he congratulates the great work of the laboratory and tasting panel that we have at Oleoestepa”.

In the 34 years that Pepe has been with this cooperative, he has had many anecdotes, some accidents such as the overflowing of some oil tank, and other very happy ones, such as the birth of his daughter just the day after the end of the campaign. “It couldn’t have ended better.

Pedro León Candelaria

Oil mill master at the associated Olivarera San Plácido in Badolatosa, Seville.

Pedro León Candelaria, oil master miller associated with Olivarera San Plácido in Badolatosa, Seville.

Six years ago he started working in the mill, performing all the tasks in the process of olive juice production as an assistant to the master, before achieving the position of oil master miller two campaigns ago. The experience gained as an assistant has been fundamental in his learning process, but even more so the technical training. “Luckily, during this period I have been able to count on Oleoestepa’s continuous training by taking different courses ranging from technical and mechanical issues to learning how to taste extra virgin olive oils, something fundamental for this job,” Pedro points out.

During the campaign, his work does not end until he has milled all the olives harvested that same day. Pedro considers the emotional component to be key in this job, with which he can overcome the pressure of the day to day, pointing out that “in the campaign there are no timetables, sometimes it ends at midnight, sometimes at 4 in the morning, but to get a high quality juice you can’t leave anything for tomorrow, time is essence”.

The fact that the San Placido cooperative is the smallest entity associated with Oleoestepa, serves as a spur to the whole team that composes it to give the best of each one in order to compete with larger mills with more technical and human resources. In this line Pedro considers that “I make a good team with the manager of the cooperative, we are young and we understand each other very well, we go to one and that shows in the final result, in the high quality of the olive juices that we achieve”.

His task as master does not end with the end of the campaign, then begins the maintenance and tuning to make it ready for the next campaign. Cleanliness and “fine” machinery are his pillars to achieve extra virgin olive oil extraction with the best organoleptic qualities, for this, time is his main challenge.  “Quality lies in achieving a milling in the shortest possible time but always in cold; it is easy to say, but very difficult to achieve”.

Pedro recalls how his situation in the cooperative changed, practically from one day to the next, “I would come in and they would tell me to do this or that, and suddenly, they offered me a position of maximum responsibility, too big for a young man like me”. Despite the stresses and strains experienced, especially during the first campaign, today he looks back with pride and satisfaction at having overcome this challenge.

Arístides Sevillano Suárez  

Oil mill master at the associated cooperative Agropecuaria in Herrera (Seville)

Arístides Sevillano Suárez, oil master miller of the associated cooperative Agropecuaria in Herrera (Seville).

About six years ago, when the oil mill merged with the table olive cooperative, the need arose for a production management that would encompass both activities. It was at this time that Arístides appeared on the scene as the person in charge of the quality of the olive oils produced in this mill.

During this period, to his technical studies in Agricultural Production and Production Supervision he has been adding the continuous technical training that Oleoestepa periodically programs and new studies of Technician in Process and Food Quality. “Technical information is fundamental, but also knowing how to value the product,” Arístides points out as the main reason for developing tasting courses, also given by Oleoestepa.

During the campaign it is more complicated for him to combine his work as production manager with his training as a Process and Food Quality Technician and the training courses to belong to the Oleoestepa tasting panel, but he points out that “this extra effort compensates me because it has a direct application on my daily work in the mill”.

His task in the cooperative is focused on directing all the operations of this industry, as well as the management of the raw material and the human team. Before the campaign, he directs the preparation tasks to guarantee a total set-up. “During the campaign, I prioritize my efforts to convert the raw material provided by our farmers into the best extra virgin olive oil possible”. In his opinion, maximum cleanliness, minimum time (6-7 hours) and temperature always below 27ºC are the key factors for extracting a juice with the best possible organoleptic properties from the olives harvested by the associates.

Looking back, he highlights what the commitment to excellence has meant for the mill. “The cultural change and the way of doing things has been spectacular. Although we have had the support of the old master, I would like to convey my pride and gratitude to the entire technical team of the mill; together we are making it possible”, concludes Arístides.

Pablo Gálvez Jurado  

Oil mill master at the associated cooperative La Purísima de Herrera (Sevilla)

Although he has been working as an oil mill master for 13 years, his life is closely linked to this cooperative. In fact, he confesses that he was born in it, in the doorman’s house, his father.

Prior to working as a miller, he began his activity in the oil mill 27 years ago as an assistant in olives reception zone. Later he went on to work in the mill where he learned many secrets of olive juice extraction.

During the campaign, his function is based on always having the machinery ready. “An optimal maintenance of the machines is essential to avoid problems during the milling, centrifuging and decanting of the oil, which prevent achieving the best possible extra virgin olive oil or, worse still, cause defects in the juice”.

“Controlling the levels, the dough and the grinding time is essential, and for this, all the machinery must be in an optimal state” explains Pablo. After the campaign, it is time for cleaning and maintenance for optimal conservation of the industry, “so that when the next campaign begins everything is ready and we can obtain a high-quality extra virgin olive oil”.

To develop this job, he points out that he has needed “hours and hours of learning, training and dedication”, highlighting the value of the continuous training provided by Oleoestepa in its technical courses for oil miller masters.

In his opinion, the secret of a high-quality extra virgin olive oil lies in multiple factors, among which the maximum cleanliness of the fruit and machinery, early harvest and cold extraction. “Here all these steps are carried out in an estimated time of two hours. Time is also crucial for achieving a maximum quality juice”.

Pablo can’t help remembering his father when he walks through this cooperative. He remembers with great nostalgia the children’s games in the patio of the mill, while his father worked in the doorman’s mill. “I have the enormous satisfaction of knowing that my father would have been immensely proud to see me as a master oil mill in the same cooperative to which he dedicated so much time.”


Juan Maldonado  

Oil mill master at the associated cooperative La Inmaculada Concepción de la Roda de Andalucía (Sevilla)

Within last five years he has been working as the head of production at this oil mill have served to confirm that working on the front line requires great responsibility and stress. The main reason is that “the difference of quality between one olive oil or another can be only tenths of fruitiness in the tasting, fundamental for an extra virgin olive oil to be different from the others”.

Before working as a master miller, he worked for 27 years as an assistant to the previous master miller, with whom he was lucky enough to work side by side, proving campaign after campaign that, to do this job, it´s necessary a comprehensive knowledge of the mill and the machines that make up it. “Knowing when and how to make the changes into the extracted process is key to having a perfectly synchronized oil mill.” For him all knowledge is welcome, “but above all you are in loved with the EVOO, because you have to put a lot of love into it.”

During the campaign he puts the focus of his work on an ideal classification of the fruit, “knowing how to differentiate the varieties and the different qualities within them is key to achieving the highest quality in the olive juice.”

Outside the campaign, in addition to managing the oil cellar, he performs maintenance work. As the old oil master instilled in him, it is necessary to have a complete knowledge of the machinery of the mill, “because, although the mill closes its doors at the end of the campaign, the work continues from the door to the inside”.


Carlos Javier Ruíz 

Oil mill master at the associated cooperative Virgen de La Oliva in Mollina (Malaga)

Since 1989 he started working in the helper mill, but by chance in life he soon had to take over the reins of this oil mill.

Although he highly values ​​all that he could learn from previous teachers, his passion for this work made him interested in other ways of doing things. “In these 32 years, continuing training has been key throughout this period, visiting other oil mills, taking courses, reading studies, attending technical conferences … in this work I find you never stop learning”.

He also highlights the great importance of his knowledge of mechanics, that has allowed him to solve problems that at that time did not have a right answer from the industry.

Looking to the future, he regrets the loss of human resources both in the olive grove and in the oil mill, seeing as difficult an adequate generational change at this time. However, he hopes that the future is better for the field, necessarily having to go through its complete professionalization.

In his long career, he has seen a great evolution throughout these years, such as the shortening of the campaigns. “In the nineties he used to end in late March or early April, however, now they end in mid-February at the latest.”

The recent integration to the cooperative project of Oleoestepa has been a plus of demand. For this reason, the details have to be taken care of even more, reducing the milling hours, maintaining a maximum cleanliness of the facilities, carrying out a cold extraction and of course, counting on the collaboration of the associated farmer in the care of the olive grove and an adequate collection. of healthy olives at the right time.

Looking back, he remembers the great cultural change in the way of determining the quality of oils both in the mill and by the consumer. Before, ignorance made the consumer value “esparto mat oil” more than the current extra virgin oils. “Fortunately, the consumer is more informed, which means a greater appreciation of higher quality oils.”


Manuel Borrego

Oil mill master at the associated cooperative San Jose de Lora de Estepa (Seville)

Manuel Borrego is immersed in his seventh campaign as Oil Mill Master at Olivarera de San José de Lora de Estepa (Seville). But he has been linked to this cooperative for many more years, learning from the hand of his master Francisco Espinosa.

In the middle of the harvest campaign, he summarizes his work highlighting the selection and organization of the fruits to be milled. Once the delivery has been made by the farmer-member, his work consists of supervising the loading and unloading and the coordination between the mill’s human team.

The former mill master insisted on the importance of knowing the oil and recognizing the quality of the olive juice. For this reason, he has combined his work with that of taster, forming part of the Oleoestepa tasting panel. Having the ability to recognize the exceptional quality of an extra virgin olive oil is fundamental to not make mistakes in his work.

He was fortunate to experience a radical change in the production process. With the arrival of new technologies, he remembers gladly how difficult it was to learn to get used to the new machinery, and how they have continued to evolve and advance.

In his opinion, to obtain a good extra virgin olive oil it is essential to have a good selection of the product and a quick milling, before the first six or eight hours, so that the olives do not have time to spoil. Time is gold, and in this case, liquid.


Ricardo García

Oil mill master at the associated cooperative Sor Ángela de Cruz in Estepa (Seville)

He is in his fifth campaign as head of the team in charge of extracting the olive juice.

He studied Agricultural Engineering at the University of Seville and specialized in Agroindustrial Plant Design. He joined this associated cooperative in 2008 as a technical advisor to the associated farmers for the implementation of a set of environmentally sustainable agronomic techniques, certified by Integrated Production.

He took advantage of his permanent and close contact with the former master, especially during the olive harvesting and oil production campaign, to train himself in the skills and tasks of the oil master of the mill, taking over from 2017.

He summarizes his daily task in planning and directing the production process. That is, organizing from the reception of the olives to the classification of the oils in the cellar.

He considers that the incorporation of technology in the production process is very important, but the key to achieving high quality extra virgin olive oils is found in the fruit, the olive, “if the fruit is extraordinary in the mill we take care of not spoiling that quality”.

In his daily work he has verified that there are areas that give singular oils, “the majority of olive groves in the region give a good extra virgin olive oil but not all of them are singular”, putting the focus on the dry land areas and with a deficit irrigation.

In the industrial component of his activity he affirms that all the improvements of facilities are welcome since once incorporated, it is very difficult to spoil the quality of a fruit in the extraction of its juice. Here he insists again that “technology, automation and self-digitization are fundamental”.

From his apprenticeship with the previous master he wants to highlight his insistence on having the ability to make decisions before the olive enters the mill. “From the beginning I have poured my work into sorting olives and not oils. Batches of very good olives give very good oils. Again, technology is our ally, thanks to it the farmers communicate before they arrive from which plot they are going to take the olives, which allows us to make an optimal planning of the reception of the olives.”