And no, by “cork” I do not mean the Irish city of Cork (although it’s probably a very nice town). Cork is an unique material that is obtained from the bark of cork oak tree and has numerous uses. The one that comes first to the mind is, obviously, wine bottling. It’s hard to imagine a wine without a cork stopper. However, it is not the only use of the cork. Ever heard about cork roll or cork flooring? Yes, it is truly a remarkable material.
Where it all begins
The story of cork begins with the bark of cork oak tree. It’s not that easy to obtain the bark itself because the whole process is strictly regulated by law. Obviously, everyone would like to have a cork board or even a cork wall. But it is not that simple. The cork oak is an eternally green tree which lives for around 150 to 200 years. It grows best on the terrain of Mediterranean Sea and that is why it’s easy to meet a cork oak tree there — most commonly it is found in Portugal, where it takes up to 22% of the area of the whole country. It’s impressive, isn’t it?
The process of obtaining the cork
So, if you happen to stumble upon a cork oak, you cannot really just cut down the tree and strip the bark off it. Basically, only qualified and trained people can do so and they are allowed to peel it off the tree once in nine years, mostly during the vegetation period, when the cork oak may grow a new bark really quickly. During the procedure the tree cannot be cut down and it cannot be damaged in any other way. You do not want to destroy the delicate ecosystem just to have a great cork board.
Debarking the tree
You may ask, how it’s possible that you can obtain the bark without cutting down the tree. Well, it is actually the only tree a human has met, that does not need to be cut down for its bark, since it grows in two layers. The internal one is alive and is a foundation for the new, external layer of the bark, which protects the tree from the temperature change. When the external layer dies, it can be peeled off with a special axe, causing no damage to the tree itself.
The harvested cork
The cork after being peeled off, is placed somewhere under the influence of the air, so it can improve its quality and be even better. This procedure lasts a few weeks, after which the bark patches are cooked with steam so all undesirable juices, insects and others disappear, leaving the bark clean and ready for further treatment, where a new cork wall, cork board or cork roll will be made for you.