By Elise Kleeman,
Caltech undergraduate Dvin Adalian was feeling restless.
With his friend Ricky Jones, he considered all manner of interesting distractions. In the end, inspiration lay just outside the door. Caltech is dotted with olive trees – trees, they noticed, with fruit just beginning to ripen.
So the pair decided to make their own olive oil.
Work began early the following Saturday on the school’s brick-lined Olive Walk.
For tools, the students used whatever they could scrounge from around their house – first a tug of war rope (useless) and then a heavy pole with which they successfully beat the olives from the branches.
Over the next four hours, they progressed from tree to tree filling a garbage can with the fruits of their labor.
“We got a few looks,” said Adalian, a quiet physics major.
Their efforts also attracted the eye of Jean-Lou Chameau, Caltech’s president and a noted gourmet, who was out for a stroll with his wife.
Chameau, who dreams of someday owning his own plot of olive trees in Greece, offered to have the students to dinner if they were successful.
“Guess what? Within two weeks, on a Sunday evening, one of the students knocks on our
door and he brings me the first jar of olive oil,” Chameau said.
As promised, a few weeks later Chameau and his wife, Carol Carmichael, invited them over for rabbit stew and a sampling of different olive oils, trying the homemade brew for himself.
“I trust the students,” he said – though he never asked them how they produced the oil. Perhaps that’s for the best.
Production began a few days after the harvest.
For two hours Adalian and Jones – with the help of their fellow students – ground the approximately 40 gallons of olives in blenders.
The next step for the students, who had “some idea” of what they needed to do based on advice and online recipes, was to cook the mixture.
Using all three of the house kitchens and 11 pots, they stewed the slurry for an hour and a half. Next, the students had to extract the liquid from the resulting big bowl of purple-brown gloop – a bigger challenge than anyone first thought.
The boys found some abandoned window screens, stacked them five deep, and pressed the pulp through with their hands.
To separate the oil from the resulting watery mix, the students then turned to Jones’ “goofy, understanding” biology professor Bruce Hay.
With the help of a big centrifuge from a biology laboratory, they finally had their product – almost 2
“It tastes fine, it tastes like a nice, rich, flavorful olive oil,” said Hay, whose wife was reluctant to let him try it. (“She’s a little skeptical about their quality control,” he said.)
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