When green makes gold

Crushed and separated, this olive oil is fresh off the press

A collection of farms in the Galilee and Golan Heights opens their operations to the public during harvest season

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Rows of olive trees planted at Eretz Gshur (Courtesy Eretz Gshur)
Rows of olive trees planted at Eretz Gshur (Courtesy Eretz Gshur)

The crusher full of Syrian olives at the Eretz Gshur olive oil plant was working noisily on Friday, as the kibbutz harvested its eight varieties of olives in the November sunshine.

The olive harvest is taking place right now, and Gshur, in the southern Golan Heights, along with some 20 other kibbutzim and farms throughout the Galilee, is opening its doors to visitors this month, offering tastings and explanations about the cloudy, deeply chartreuse-colored olive oil.

These local olive farms are part of the 24th Olive Oil Festival, which spans the course of several weekends this month, with tours, explanations and tastings at many of the olive oil presses. Visitors can eat full Druze meals at some of the farms, or simply focus on olive oil tastings and explanations at others.

The farms that are still holding tastings through the end of the month are the Olive Oil Press at Menorah, Kibbutz Shamir, Saba Haviv next to Kibbutz Farud, the Avtalion olive press and Eretz Gshur.

At Gshur, the olive oil season is in its 16th year.

The crushing machine and other parts of the olive oil making process at the Eretz Gshur olive oil press (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The kibbutz, which also grows grapes for local vineyards, entered the olive oil business after hearing about a Spanish method that uses a mechanical grape picker mounted on its olive trees to harvest, rather than manual labor or a shaker to move the fruit off the trees.

At Gshur, the silvery-leafed olive trees are short and grow closely together, allowing the mechanical picker to move over the tops of the trees and gather all the fruit.

The kibbutz now has 550 dunams (136 acres) of olives originating from Spain, Greece and Israel, ranging from light, fruity to dark, pungent flavors with hints of nuts and cut grass. The nine types of olive oil made are Picholine, Arbequina, Leccino, Korneiki, Gshur Blend, Barnea, Picual, Souri and Coratina.

The olives are picked as soon as they’re ripe, which helps deepen the flavor. The fruit is then rinsed twice before being crushed, separated, decanted and then poured as olive oil into barrels.

During this month, visitors can have the fresh, extra virgin olive oil poured into two-liter or five-liter cans for purchase, or choose from last year’s batches, some of them award-winning olive oils, ready in one-liter bottles on the shelf. There is also a short film in Hebrew or English about the kibbutz’s olive orchards and a self-guided tour of its olive press.

Eretz Gshur, Kibbutz Gshur, Golan Heights.

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