The origin of…Cork

“Some people drift along like a cork on a river, feeling that they cannot do anything except drift, moment to moment. This is an attitude of mind. Everyone can be constructive even in tiny ways.” Edward de Bono

Post 44 Cork

The material cork is retrieved from the Quercus Suber, the Cork Oak. Because it is impermeable, elastic, buoyant and fire retardant, it can be used in various products, of which most of us know it as a stopper on wine bottles. Southern Portugal produces almost 50% of cork harvested annually worldwide.

Cork has been used as a wine stopper as long as there has been wine. The Greeks used it in the 5th century BC and the Romans followed their example. For some reason, corks were not used during medieval times and they are mentioned again at the end of the 16th century when Shakespeare wrote about them in “As you like it”. Most bottles had glass stoppers, but this practice was abandoned in 1825 because it was almost impossible to open a bottle without breaking it.
Because cork stoppers prevent oxygen from spoiling the wine, maturing wine in the bottle became a habit and the desirable properties of matured wines made them more valuable. But how to extract the cork from the bottle? The invention of the corkscrew (at first called a bottlescrew) in the 17th century made this a whole lot easier and the cork could be driven all the way in, instead of half-out, like stoppers.

Cork trees are usually 25 years old before the cork is harvested from the tree for the first time. The first harvest, however, is typically of poor quality, or what is called male cork (cortiça virgem in Portugal and corcho bornizo or corcho virgin in Spain). High quality cork is called gentle cork (cortiça amadia in Portugal) and this type of cork is generally used as stoppers for wine bottles. After the first harvest there is normally an interval of 9 years between subsequent harvests. Harvests take place from May to late August, when it is possible to separate the cork from the tree without permanent damage to the tree.
Extractors, using a very sharp axe, make two types of cuts on the tree, a horizontal one around the tree (the necklace or crown) and vertical ones, called rulers or openings. The cuts must be made with special care to not damage the underlying phellogen, or the tree will be damaged. To extract the cork from the tree, the handle of the axe is pushed into the rulers and portions (called planks) are cut off and left to dry.

1. a material that is made from the soft bark of a kind of oak tree
2. a piece of cork or another material (such as plastic) that is put in the end of bottle to close it(source: Merriam Webster).

The English word cork comes from Spanish alcorque, cork sole, from Andalusian Arabic al-qūrq, from Latin quercus, oak, or cortex, bark. Dutch kurk and Spanish corcho have the same origins.
Italian sughero comes from Latin suber, cork(tree), related to Greek syphar, wrinkled skin, referring to the bark´s wrinkñed outer surface.

Cork in other languages:
Dutch: kurk
Spanish: el corcho
Italian: il sughero


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