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Visiting a Small, Family-Owned Olive Press

Feb 4, 2013

by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Cheryl Sternman Rule is the author of RIPE: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables (Running Press, 2012) and the voice behind the award-winning food blog, 5 Second Rule. Find her on Twitter @sternmanrule.  

When you think of olive oil, Italy, Spain and Greece probably come to mind. Maybe even the US, as California olive oils have gained greater prominence. But Israel makes olive oil, too, and I recently had an opportunity to visit a family-owned, environmentally-friendly olive “press” while traveling through that country’s Moshav Tzipori region.

Named after a Talmudic-era scholar, the Rish Lakish Olive Press sits squarely in Israel’s lower Galilee, a region known for olive production. As we walk into the serene, earthen building that houses the press, Ayala Noy Meir, whose family owns the operation, points to the imposing, silent machinery. “The press doesn’t work on Shabbat,” she says simply.

Right. Today’s Saturday.

Olive press and cans of olive oil.

One of 6 children, Ayala and her siblings have degrees in agriculture. About 10 years ago, their parents began to build the environmentally-responsible olive press as a way to tempt their now-grown children into embracing a family-operated business. They constructed the building out of sustainable materials like stone, hay, and clay, and sealed the structure with both olive oil and egg whites.

In many parts of the olive-growing world, farmers employ huge tractors to harvest the fruit, shaking the trees vigorously to release olives from their branches. Some orchards also spray their trees with hormones and pesticides. These methods take an environmental toll, one the Noy Meirs wanted to avoid.

Olive oil and Rish Lakish olive oil.

At Rish Lakish,  the all-organic olive trees are combed by hand, with small, plastic rakes about as high-tech as a child’s beach toy. Large nets under each tree catch the olives, which are then quickly transferred to waiting boxes.

The boxes are then brought to the room we’re standing in, a room with a huge mechanical press, so the olives can be pressed as quickly as possible. What’s the rush, exactly? Olives begin to oxidize as soon as they’re harvested, so it’s important to extract their oil immediately. “That’s why we bought our own press,” Ayala explains.  It’s also why the family doesn’t press olives brought in from other orchards; there would be no way to guarantee their age, and thus their quality. Plus, olives from other orchards may harbor disease, or have been mishandled. Directing each phase of the process onsite gives the Noy Meirs maximum control.

Five varieties of olive oil, set out for tasting.

Ayala walks us through the production process, which starts with the sorting of the fruit from the olive leaves. (Leaves can render the oil bitter, so they must be removed.) Because olive leaves are becoming increasingly popular among natural foods advocates, and there’s a booming market for olive leaf tea and supplements, the Noy Meirs give the cleaned leaves to friends, who process and sell them.

The olive “meat” and pits are then cold-pressed together under stone. Acidity levels are measured, and as long as the “free acids” register below 0.8 percent (an indicator of high quality oil), production continues in large tanks. (If the acidity is too high, the oil gets diverted for cosmetic use; a local woman uses it to make soaps and creams, which Rish Lakish sells in its small shop.)

Decorating the bread dough with herbs, olive oil, and tomatoes.

One of the most special parts of our visit to Rish Lakish took place outside the stone building and under a tent. Here, the Noy Meirs have constructed an outdoor stone oven where visitors are invited to bake bread brushed with – what else? – glossy olive oil. The bread is wonderful – drizzled with additional oil, and baked with fresh tomatoes and herbs from the family’s garden.

Organic olive oil, a family orchard, a small, sustainable press, a sunny day… we eat our bread, happily lost in the moment, and come away with a new appreciation for one of our favorite pantry staples.

All photos by Cheryl Sternman Rule.

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4 Featured Comments

  • fbstudiovt

    Laura Hale from FoundBeautyStudioArt said 4 years ago Featured

    I live in a state (VT) that focuses heavily on sustainable, local food, and it thrills me to see this same ethic expressed across the globe. As we face climate change, soil erosion, famine, drought, and hundred year storms that strike with frequency, it's farms like this that are the catalyst of change. Thank you to the Noy Meirs family for showing other growers what's possible.

  • IsabelleKnits

    IsabelleKnits from IsabelleKnits said 4 years ago Featured

    We harvest our own virgin olive oil too here in Greece. We hand pick them or use a small hand held rake. No machinery whatsoever. It's a tiring process but it's fun having the family gather together to pick them. There's nothing like spending time in nature.

  • Colourscape

    Kelly and Adam from Colourscape said 4 years ago Featured

    What a great story! We used to live about 10 minutes from an olive oil producer in South Australia and we loved going in and seeing how the beautiful product was made. He held himself to very high standards and the knowledge that we supported our local community was really reward in itself :)

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 4 years ago Featured

    Having your hands on each aspect of your business from beginning to end is something I've not seen many businesses accomplish. It's great that you can monitor the quality on your processes and be sustainable and consious of your use of the land whilst creating a great final product.

90 comments

  • AlisaDesign

    Alisa from AlisaDesign said 4 years ago

    Great article!

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 4 years ago

    Very cool!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 4 years ago

    What a great story!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 4 years ago

    Interesting. A labor of love!

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 4 years ago

    Oooooom wonderful!!!!! I love this article and learning about the process!!! I wish I had some olive trees!

  • TheJoyofColor

    Yael Berger from TheJoyofColor said 4 years ago

    Splendid Article , I live in Israel and didn't know about the Noy family i'm sure going to visit in my next trip to the north, We love olive owl and always try to buy organic Extra virgin to use in our salad and add to the bread , Thank you Cheryl

  • lauraprill

    Laura Prill from lauraprill said 4 years ago

    There's something about the olives and branches in the first photo that really is so evocative to me. Maybe it's reminding me of the aroma of olive oil that has surrounded me ever since I was a little girl visiting my grandparent's kitchen. Lovely post.

  • IlluminatedPerfume

    Roxana from IlluminatedPerfume said 4 years ago

    Absolutely mouthwatering!

  • beadeddragons

    Brittany from beadeddragons said 4 years ago

    Great story. My family has been trying to switch to a healthier and more natural diet, and in the process we have been using a lot of olive oil. It's nice to hear the tale of something we might otherwise be too busy to think twice about.

  • susanmack3

    Susan Mack from HappyValleyHerbs said 4 years ago

    Nice article! Now I am craving olives!

  • MaruMaru

    MaruMaru from MaruMaru said 4 years ago

    MmmM

  • emwi

    Emily Wirt from emwi said 4 years ago

    Fun! Harvesting olive oil is such a beautiful process. Really great entry about really great olive oil.

  • bariand

    Arina Kushnir from bariand said 4 years ago

    Mmm...Cool!

  • GisieArt

    Giselle from MyArtAndFashion said 4 years ago

    I didn't know Israel makes olive oil also. Interesting article. Thanks!

  • fbstudiovt

    Laura Hale from FoundBeautyStudioArt said 4 years ago Featured

    I live in a state (VT) that focuses heavily on sustainable, local food, and it thrills me to see this same ethic expressed across the globe. As we face climate change, soil erosion, famine, drought, and hundred year storms that strike with frequency, it's farms like this that are the catalyst of change. Thank you to the Noy Meirs family for showing other growers what's possible.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    A friend's father "retired" to an olive grove in Italy. Every time she goes over to see him he insists she brings back literally gallons of the stuff & she supplies virtually everyone she knows, including me! It's wonderful to know there are people who care enough about things to still do them the old fashioned way. Olive oil, fresh bread, tomatoes, a few basil leaves & maybe some cheese... just add wine, sunshine & friends to make heaven!

  • BrokenFingersArt

    Erin Inglis from COLRtheory said 4 years ago

    Drooling

  • gwendombrosky

    gwen dombrosky said 4 years ago

    So glad to see this article here. Is there any way to purchase said oil?

  • klb00e

    Mother Lark from MotherLark said 4 years ago

    I'm so hungry :)

  • konakia

    Angie from AngiesAccesorios said 4 years ago

    The last picture It's such a Mediterranean scene!

  • amysfunkyfibers

    Amy Gunderson from amysfunkyfibers said 4 years ago

    Yum! I can't imagine how wonderful that hot bread is with the fresh olive oil!

  • talany

    talany from RhymingScapes said 4 years ago

    SSooo delicious! Thank you for sharing this experience! :)

  • xZOUix

    Zoui from XZOUIX said 4 years ago

    i'm so thankful for articles like this one :) great way to discover amazing places in the world. thank u, thank u! :)

  • PrayerNotes

    Prayer Notes by Cynthia from PrayerNotes said 4 years ago

    Wonderful article! I just know that the bread is fantastic!

  • fineartstoneware

    fineartstoneware from fineartstoneware said 4 years ago

    Interesting article!

  • Waterrose

    Rose Waterrose from Waterrose said 4 years ago

    There is a wonderful family operated Olive Mill not far. We've taken the tour a few times and really enjoyed learning about the process. Thanks for sharing information about this family business in Israel.

  • elizabethforster

    elle and belle Forster from elleandbellejewelry said 4 years ago

    Very interesting article! Thanks

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 4 years ago

    Intersting story! Must have been a great tour! That bread sounds great!

  • PruAtelier

    Jeanne B from PruAtelier said 4 years ago

    Mmmmmm....as my mouth begins to water reading this fine article! I did not know that the olive pits were pressed along with the flesh to obtain the oil. Good for the Noy Meirs for their dedication to developing a foodstuff that is healthy for us from growth and harvest without the use of pesticides, to the end product using minimal processing. Congratulations!

  • Challand

    Sharon Challand from Challand said 4 years ago

    So nice to hear about this family business!

  • Challand

    Sharon Challand from Challand said 4 years ago

    Nice to hear about this interesting family business!

  • TurtleGirlQuilts

    Julie Goolsby from TurtleGirlQuilts said 4 years ago

    Awesome

  • ArigigiPixel

    Gina from ArigigiPixel said 4 years ago

    If the olive oil is good I can eat it alone with bread, but of course, mozzarella and tomato are welcome.

  • athousandwinds

    Amanda, Dot, Liz from athousandwinds said 4 years ago

    I love this story:) Over the winter I have been looking at adding fruit and nut trees to our little texas spread. Olives was one tree we are looking at, you can grow them here. Anyhoo great story...thank you:)

  • HomeStudio

    Stef and Mark from HomeStudio said 4 years ago

    wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 4 years ago

    So good to know of this family run business!

  • jamasters

    Jess Masters from RefinedRock said 4 years ago

    Very cool-Id love to taste the bread and oil :-P

  • Bessiescreations

    Bessie from BessiesCreations said 4 years ago

    What a great post! I love using olive oil.

  • StayArtisan

    J.K. Ramirez from HudsonBlueArtisans said 4 years ago

    What a great story.

  • rebeccagoebel

    Rebecca Goebel from OctoberNative said 4 years ago

    Looks delicious :))

  • onlymadeonce

    Carol Wagner from EclecticBead said 4 years ago

    Nice! Will look for this around where I live

  • Darlink

    Darlink said 4 years ago

    Wait where do I buy this?

  • sherricohendesign

    Sherri Cohen from sherricohendesign said 4 years ago

    I have worked with olive wood, when sanded it has the aroma of olive oil! My first Catskill Mountain Mezuzahs where made out of olive wood. I now use birch and black walnut from fallen trees in the Hudson Valley. Great article!

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 4 years ago

    I love black olives cold and will have to read more about it. This is a very interesting article. Thank you for sharing.

  • beadstylin

    beadstylin from beadstylin said 4 years ago

    This makes me want to make something with olive oil...yum!

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 4 years ago

    Love the story, love olive oil, and sounds great to cook in an outdoor oven... Thanks for sharing this story!

  • WoodlandCottage

    WoodlandCottage from WoodlandCottage said 4 years ago

    I'm so happy to see stories about ways to live closer to, and in harmony with the land, nature, the seasons. Thank you, Etsy, for bringing us this inspiration for a more sustainable lifestyle rich in meaning and direction!

  • MadameKoiteh

    MadameKoiteh from MadameKoiteh said 4 years ago

    Amazing story. The author's account is so rich and inviting it feels as if you're standing right there too. And a lovely inspiration to see good stewards of Mother Earth :)

  • BoonieBandido

    Patty Sparger from BoonieBandido said 4 years ago

    I have been reading about the process of processing nuts, olive and soy only to be shocked that hexane is used in ALOT of our common cooking oils/products. Hexane is a flammable petroleum product used to process non-organic, non-expelled oils and other products (like veggie burgers, tofu...). The USFDA does regulate these processes so we have no idea how much chemicals actually arrive on our tables. Scary stuff... The more I research food and big agro and their processed the more I seek out organic, whole, local and natural processes. I have changed my diet and learned tons about big business and deregulation in this country. It's difficult researching the foods our family eats but I feel much better for it. It's so nice to read about this lovely and responsible family business and the community they support. Keepup the good works.

  • BoonieBandido

    Patty Sparger from BoonieBandido said 4 years ago

    PS...Hexane is much more regulated outside the US....just like GMOs...

  • kalarae17

    Kala Smith from KalaRaeDesigns said 4 years ago

    Love olives and olive oil! yum yum

  • iammieCLAYshop

    iammieCLAYshop from iammieCLAYshop said 4 years ago

    Love this!

  • gallery32

    Trina from Gallery32Photography said 4 years ago

    What a lovely photo essay. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Nikifashion

    Natalia from Nikifashion said 4 years ago

    Great story!

  • analucialong

    Ana Lúcia Long from analucialong said 4 years ago

    Israeli Olive oil has a unique flavor...like everything else there, unique! Great article, I love it!

  • mirjamleskovek

    Mirjam from FloraBeauty said 4 years ago

    Lovely, my family likes olive oils (usually the italian or greece one) and now I think I want to try yours, too. I am forwarding your article to my husband to read, I am sure he will like it. Must now check for your store :) p.s. perhaps this is not appropriate to write here - but this thought first came across my mind after I read the title of this article- what a handsome woman you are!

  • JennysTreasuresForU

    Jennifer from JennysTreasuresForU said 4 years ago

    Someday I'll have to try Israeli olive oil,I love olives and olive oil! :)

  • malvalr

    Malena Valcárcel from MalenaValcarcel said 4 years ago

    Olive oil is such a source of nutrients, here in Spain we use it with practically everything :), even as a beauty source. Great article!!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 4 years ago

    Excellent!!!

  • IsabelleKnits

    IsabelleKnits from IsabelleKnits said 4 years ago Featured

    We harvest our own virgin olive oil too here in Greece. We hand pick them or use a small hand held rake. No machinery whatsoever. It's a tiring process but it's fun having the family gather together to pick them. There's nothing like spending time in nature.

  • oilpaintingchrista

    Christa M. Christa from OilpaintingsChrista said 4 years ago

    A superb story!!! I love olives and we have many many many olives here in Halkidiki/Greece-)))) love Christa

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 4 years ago

    So glad to see this article here. Because olive oil is very natural , in our kitchen only I am using olive oil .

  • DeepSilence

    Sonja Bikić from DeepSilence said 4 years ago

    interesting

  • lenkamuchnik

    Elena Muchnik from lenkamuchnik said 4 years ago

    What a great story! Excellent!!!

  • BizzieLizzie

    Bizzie from BizzieLizzieHandmade said 4 years ago

    Oh, nothing better than olive oil, olives and anything made with them! Fantastic story!

  • StudioDR

    Ducky Rubin from StudioDjewelry said 4 years ago

    Great post! What a wonderful example of Israel's pruducts and values. Ducky :)

  • 1dream

    1dream from 1dream said 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this article...We love the olive a lot in Turkey..We have got 8 olive trees in our garden but we are using them for our breakfast..It takes a lot process...Olive oil is so important for us..It is so health and we prefer to eat with some spice in our all meals...( olive oil and olive mash, olive oil and thyme, oliveoil and black cumin and red paper) (Yummy yummy with hot homemade bread)

  • postmanlily

    sun li from lililililili said 4 years ago

    So Nature! Love it!

  • pancakeandlulu

    Aimee Knerr from pancakeandlulu said 4 years ago

    wow, so cool, thank for sharing!

  • tamilopez

    Tami Lopez from TamiLopezDesigns said 4 years ago

    This is a really interesting little peek into a wonderful family business. I use olive oil every day. I appreciate it a lot more from now on. It is a fascinating oil! Thank you so much for this feature!!! I enjoyed it.

  • butikonline83

    Hendri . from butikonline83 said 4 years ago

    Considerably, this post is really the sweetest on this notable topic. I harmonise with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your incoming updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the phenomenal clarity in your writing. I will directly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Admirable work and much success in your business dealings!  Please excuse my poor English as it is not my first tongue.

  • Plastidermy

    Chris Evans from Plastidermy said 4 years ago

    It's beautful to the see consiousness of these makers. Seeing creators monitor the quality of their products without sacrificing the integrity of the land is a marriage we should all grow in prusuit of.

  • gaiadesignstudios

    gaiadesignstudios from GaiaDesignStudios said 4 years ago

    Wonderful story!

  • dorydesigns

    Tamar Dory from dorydesigns said 4 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this article. In Israel there are olive trees that are hundreds of years old and it is most beautiful to see. Next time that I will be in Israel I will plan to visit this family owned operation as a result of this story. Truly inspiring.

  • genisepark

    Genise Park from genisepark said 4 years ago

    Wonderful story wish I was there to taste and see everything! Love olive oil!!!!

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 4 years ago

    Viva la Israel and the ancient olive trees producing the best oil.

  • Colourscape

    Kelly and Adam from Colourscape said 4 years ago Featured

    What a great story! We used to live about 10 minutes from an olive oil producer in South Australia and we loved going in and seeing how the beautiful product was made. He held himself to very high standards and the knowledge that we supported our local community was really reward in itself :)

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful story! It looks so delicious and healthy! Olive oil is the main ingredient in our soap so we realize the importance of great quality.

  • gilstrapdesigns

    Debra Gilstrap from gilstrapdesigns said 4 years ago

    This was a very good article and so interesting that bread looks so good.

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 4 years ago Featured

    Having your hands on each aspect of your business from beginning to end is something I've not seen many businesses accomplish. It's great that you can monitor the quality on your processes and be sustainable and consious of your use of the land whilst creating a great final product.

  • OliCreations

    Francesca from OliCreations said 4 years ago

    Fascinating! I use olive oil just about everywhere, and lately I have been using oil bought directly from local producers (not bought in a supermarket, in other words) but I actually don't know if they put that much effort into making it sustainable, it would be interesting to know. I had no idea the olive pits were used too to make the oil, and I love the idea that nothing gets thrown away, including the oil that didn't turn out right and gets used for cosmetics... I loved this article and it is making me crave spring and summer for some reason...

  • edinar

    Eliyahu and Dana DINAR from DINARjewelry said 4 years ago

    Great article!

  • nativestrandsjewelry

    Rachel from PeppersJewelry said 4 years ago

    Great read! Thanks!

  • indayanibakedgoods

    indayanibakedgoods from IndayaniBakedGoods said 4 years ago

    It is always encouraging to hear story like this, thank you for sharing.

  • nelson776

    Karen from NathalieLaneDesigns said 4 years ago

    Interesting story! Some friends of ours went to Israel, a few months ago, and did visit an olive press. Thanks for sharing!

  • carrolkenrick

    Carrol Kenrick from dezignhub said 4 years ago

    That is wonderful, sometimes people don't realise how important it is to have people on the land and if we didn't have people that grow good food we would eat rubbish. Keep up your great work!

  • GoddessOfJewelry

    GoddessOfJewelry from GoddessOfJewelry said 4 years ago

    I can't even tell you how badly I want to (a) find that olive oil at my grocery shop or even online and (b) visit an olive grove, now that I have read this article! :)

  • jnorvelle

    Jayne Norvelle from jnorvelle said 4 years ago

    Great, great article! I love to fill my home and body with things that have been, made or grown using sustainable, ethical practices. This Olive oil company sounds like one of those! So nice to see a good company that is succeeding! Oh how I'd love to visit their operation!

  • gabriellabecchina

    Gabriella Becchina said 4 years ago

    Hello! Thank you for an inspiring article. I too produce olive oil in Sicily, and would very much love to learn more about the use of the discarded olive leaves. It's part of a research I care very much about to help local oil millers and farmers get more out of their hard labor and build a local, sustainable olive producing farming group. Is there any way I could get in touch with the people the Meirs give their leaves to?

  • sdrafke

    Suzette from Suzetteupcycled said 4 years ago

    OLIVE OIL by the GALLON! We buy it from our local Italian food market by the gallon since we use it so much! MMMMmmmmm.....the story is fascinating and I learned SO MUCH! That fresh bread with oil, tomatoes & herbs?? I could LIVE ON THAT day & night! SO INTERESTING .....THANK YOU!!!

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