An illustrated guide to the cork production process
It all starts in the forest. Cork oaks are harvested every nine years, once they reach maturity. It doesn't harm the tree, and the cork bark regrows. Most cork forests are in Portugal and Spain.
The year of harvest is marked on the trunk, so each tree isn't harvested at the wrong time.
Harvested cork planks are stored before processing. Good cork companies will store them on concrete rather than bare earth, lowering the risk of contamination. Before processing, the cork planks are put on pallets. Then they are ready for the first stage in the cork production process: boiling. Following pictures were taken at Amorim's facility in Coruche, ion the south of Portugal.
The planks are boiled to soften them, and also to clean them. In the bad old days these would be boiled in murky pits without the water being changed very often. Now, to avoid cross-contamination, the water is cleaned, filtered and replenished regularly, with volatiles being removed on a continuous basis. Boiled planks are flatter and easier to work with.
Next the planks are graded and cut into workable pieces. Some will be used for punching natural corks out of; others will be used to make technical corks. Pictures below were all taken at Amorim's factory in the north of Portugal, south of Porto.
These workers are hand-punching corks from strips of bark: these will be high-end corks. Others are machine punched.
Remaining cork can be ground up to make granules that can then be glued together to make agglomerate cork.
Corks are optically sorted: blasts of air are used to send the corks into the right grade bins. Then corks are sorted by eye. Top grade corks will be really expensive, over a Euro each.
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