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Cork Extraction in the north of Portugal

Jorge Sarmento | Trás-os-Montes, Portugal

Some of the mornings were cold and cork could not be extracted. We waited...

Portugal is the largest cork exporter in the world. Cork extraction is one of the stages of a long process that begins 30 years earlier when cork oak is either planted or born spontaneously.

One of the most interesting peculiarities of the cork oak is its outer shell - cork - whose main role is to protect the tree. The first (virgin) cork extracted has no commercial value; it can only be extracted 30 years after the cork oak is planted and then with a 9 year interval.

Extraction usually occurs between June and August. Hot weather is needed for the cork to be easily extracted, otherwise it cannot be done without injuring the tree. Work starts early, at 5:30am and ends before noon.

Being a cork man is not for everyone. It takes physical preparation and audacity, often climbing to heights of over 8 meters. Over time cork men learn to look at the cork oak and know exactly where to do the firsts cuts - "you must have a trained eye and understand the cork oak".

Jorge Sarmento


Special thanks to

Antonio Gomes

Eurico Fraga Trigo

Jorge dos Santos

Marco Carrilho

Maria Isilda Carrilho


This photographic documentary was made because I see in it a good subject matter and it is typical Portuguese work, done with the force of people's arms where the machines have not yet found a place because of the complexity and randomness of the extraction.
I hope it translates the strength and skill of cork men.

In the present, cork is in the peak areas of innovative design and eco-design. It is an ecological, recyclable and biodegradable material looked for many different applications. With this photographic documentary I intend to participate in the construction of the Portuguese immaterial heritage.

We must look into our future with the awareness of our present and past. Everything that is modern has a path, a story: a soul.

Jorge Sarmento







Jorge Sarmento

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