Cork consists of the thick outer bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber). Harvesting cork is the operation of removing bark from the tree during spring or summer. This is the time of year that the tree is engaged in rapid growth. The tender, newly generated cork cells break away from the cambium easily and without damage.
The process is temporarily debilitating but the outer bark quickly regenerates and the tree continues to flourish. Studies show that regular harvesting generally improves the trees health and vigor.Stripping cork is a delicate operation that is performed by hand with traditional tools and methods. Despite periodic attempts, there is no mechanized or automated process that can compare to traditional harvesting techniques.
Harvest difficulties occur if the process is not carried out when the tree is in full growth. As soon as it is evident that the cork is being stripped too early or too late in the season the stripping is brought to a halt, a year's delay in cork extraction is preferred to damage to the tree. The delicate operation of stripping cork has been performed in the same way for decades. Today, cork stripping with a special axe continues to be the quickest and cleanest method available.