This Mill Makes 200 Tons of Olive Oil. In a Day.

Behind the scenes at Almazara Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the world's largest olive mill.

To drive through Jaén in south-central Spain is to experience its vast scale of olive trees and olive oil culture. It’s no wonder they call the groves here the Sea of Olive Trees. In neat rows and over gentle mountains, they stretch as far as the eye can see. As we keep driving, the olive trees keep going and going.

Jaén is home to the largest area of olive groves in the world. Three hundred million olive trees flourish over an area of about 2.5 million hectares, almost 1,000 square miles.

Jaén produces about 40 percent of Spain’s olive oil and 20 percent of the world’s. The massive amount of olives demands enormous and efficient facilities, almazaras (olive mills) where they are cleaned, milled and processed.

Almazara Nuestra Señora del Pilar is the biggest of them all.

The Almazara was founded in 1966 in a tiny town called Villacarillo in the district of La Loma y Las Villas with 16 members when José María Pastor Bueno opened a factory equipped with 10 presses, mixes and rollers. Since then, the faculty has grown and innovated many times over.

During the 2018-19 harvest, 1,709 active members will bring their olives here to be transformed into oil. They include small family farms and major operations that together harvest 1.5 million olive trees. In a single year, they will produce 20,000 tons of olive oil — that’s twice the average annual production of the United States. 

Paco Corrido, Almazara del Pilar’s vice president of operations, showed me around the factory earlier this month. On 14 November, the very first truckload of olives arrived for the season. The date was unusually late due to a rainy autumn, and so the huge factory was shiny, quiet, and still.

In the days that followed, that was going to change dramatically. Every day for the next three months, the facility is expecting to receive about two million kilos (2,205 tons) of olives. On a busy morning, 1,500 trucks full of olives arrive for milling. They are organized into 80 lines of reception. In an average year, the mill will process between 70 and 80 million kilos (between 77,000 and 88,000 tons) of olives. More