As we were driving through Portugal we noticed there were many cork farms. Portugal is the world’s largest producer of cork. Seventy percent of the world’s cork is from Portugal, and cork accounts for 2.3% of Portugal’s exports.
Cork comes from the bark of the cork tree. It is harvested with a huge axe. The bark is the only part that is taken off the tree and it is usually just the trunk. The tree is not damaged, for only the bark is cut off. The cork is first harvested when the tree is about 25-30 years of age. They are subsequently cut every 9-13 years. The trees live for about 300 years. The first two cuts will produce low yield.
Traditionally, cork bark has been used for making wine bottle corks. After the bark is gathered, it is cut into strips. These strips are then boiled to soften them up. After the cork has dried, they are either hand cut or cut by a machine into small stubby cylinders into wine corks.
Today wine bottles are capped with different materials besides cork. Because of this decreased demand for cork, the producers have used cork to make other items. Some of the main items include horse racing plates, shoes, sporting equipment, hats, bags, kitchenware, flooring, and surf and snowboards. Cork is a very good material for these products for it is light, durable, and renewable.