Approximately 13 billion corks are produced worldwide every year. Cork is cultivated from the Cork Oak tree (Quercus Suber). The first harvest cannot commence until the tree is fully matured at 25 years. The cork regrows and will be stripped every 9 years.
It is not until the third harvest that the cork has reached a standard high enough to be used for bottle stoppers. The first harvest is known as “virgin cork” and the second, you guessed it “secondary cork”. Cork boards and floor tiles are produced with the early harvests.
This medium sized evergreen tree’s bark is insulated providing protection from rotting, forest fires and termites. It survives frequent droughts and the fluctuating temperatures of the Mediterranean.
During the months of June, July and August the cork is stripped by Loggers using a long handled hatchet, the skills needed are generally handed down from father to son resulting in generations working together. The blade of the hatchet makes the incision and the shaped handle is used to detach the cork from the tree, care must be taken not to damage the inner layer of the bark.
Once the cork has been removed the tree is marked on its dark reddish bark with a number indicating the year of the last harvest. This number remains visible as the bark thickens from the inside.
The cork is then left to stabilize before it is taken to be boiled which cleans and softens it making it easier to work with. Once the boiling process is completed the cork is left to rest for three weeks before it is trimmed and cut. Bottle stoppers are then punched, high ended corks are punched by hand and can cost 1 euro per piece while machines are used to produce the bulk of stoppers.
Have you ever sat at a wobbly table due to uneven ground?
First, buy a bottle of wine. Remove the cork and cut it at an angle then slide the cork under one of the legs.
Voilà, a steady table.
You may see the word 'Bouchon' on an information board on a French motorway, don't expect to see a pile of corks in the road as Bouchon also means 'Traffic Jam'.
Photos © Andy Coomer
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