Pressing forward

Take a tour of a modern, eco-friendly olive oil producer.

olive oil mill beit habad 248 (photo credit: Shira Teger)
olive oil mill beit habad 248
(photo credit: Shira Teger)
There were 2,500 acres of olive trees in the ancient Golan and 193 mentions of olive oil in the Bible. So it's no surprise that this country tends to go heavy on olive consumption. But few consumers pay attention to how their oil is made. Many of us are familiar with the tourist sites in Katzrin, particularly the talmudic village, the Mei Eden factory and the Golan Heights Winery. But along with the other factory tours in the area is a less-known yet intriguing site: the ecologically friendly Beit Habad Shel Hagolan (Golan Olive Oil Mill). Almost directly across the road from the Golan Heights Winery, the boutique olive oil press catches your eye even from the outside. Designed to mimic the look of the ancient synagogues in the area, the large and spacious building is made of dark, fake basalt stones and has a neat garden and olive trees out front. The entrance is through an archway of stained glass which casts blue shadows in the airy visitors' center. And in the visitors' center, guests can take a short tour of the place, grab a drink at the kosher cafe, view a short (and slightly cheesy) video (which is available dubbed into English), relax by the little pond and see the factory. The building also houses a laboratory where new products are developed, a shop to purchase olive oil and olive-based cosmetics and a space for events. Beit Habad was begun four years ago by Avner Talmon in order to have a place where he and six other olive farmers who belong to the Capernaum Vista Olive Farm could produce their oil without ruining the environment. Traditionally, the production of olive oil was very wasteful. Firstly, to harvest the olives, trees were smacked with sticks and the fruit would drop. This would damage the trees' future yields and harm the olives. And once the olives were pressed, the leftover olive waste (known as gefet in Hebrew) would be dumped into nearby water sources. In large amounts, this waste, rich in antioxidants, kills earth and pollutes water. Beit Habad's first successful product - aside from the oil - uses this waste to make a cleansing hand scrub. The waste is fermented until it turns into soap, and the pits are ground to provide the scrubbing element. A bit of lemongrass is added as an antibacterial agent. Made of 97% olive, it was also found to moisturize and help against fungus and psoriasis, due in part to the oil that remains in waste, because of the cold-press technique used at Beit Habad. In time, a whole line of Olea Essence cosmetic products was developed in the on-site lab, including creams, lip balms and body milk, all based on the byproducts of olive oil pressing. There are no preservatives in any of the products, nor is waste produced when making them. If you come for the tour (which runs NIS 10 per person over six, every hour on the hour), chances are you won't actually get to see the olive presses in action. The small factory - just three machines, total - operates only three months per year (October through December), which is a typical olive oil-making season. But a video runs on a loop showing the pressing process, and the metal vats that store the oil produced on-site are lined up nearby, so you can walk between them. But you do learn a lot about the process of making oil, from ancient techniques to modern ones. Plus, you get to taste the three oils - named Beit Saida, Kursi and Tabha - that the press makes. If you happen to be up North and you're looking to add a more offbeat stop to your trip, you may want to check out Beit Habad - but good luck getting out of there without grabbing a bottle or two.n Beit Habad Shel Hagolan is located 1 km. south of Katzrin on Route 9088. Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (04) 685-0023 or visit for more details.