Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Olive harvest time!

In most Mediterranean areas of Italy, olives are normally harvested in the months of November, December and January. But in Tuscany, where cooler valleys are sometimes hit by early frosts, the harvest can begin as early as the end of September.
This early harvest means that the fruit is less ripe when it comes off the vine producing less oil, making Tuscan olive oils a bit more hard to come by than others. The less ripe olives also account for the prized peppery taste of olive oil from Tuscany. This autumnal harvest time is one of the best seasons to visit Tuscany – there are even parties thrown to honour it!
Olives are to this day picked by hand, and they are combed from the tree branches with a long instrument that resembles a giant pair of scissors. This old method, known as Brucatura, provides the best fruit as machines tend to bruise the fruit which has a direct impact on the taste. In Tuscany, the olives are always picked by hand, for proud Tuscans it would be a crime even to use one sub-standard Olive as this can effect the taste of the whole barrel!
As you can imagine, olive harvesting is difficult work. Usually, the entire family, and often their friends, are called upon to pitch in with the farm workers for the harvest. The olives are always picked when green and timing is hugely important. Once the fruit is off the trees, it must be rushed to the press in order to avoid the fruit spoiling. Fermentation becomes an issue once the olives are picked. So, it is on to the presses as quickly as possible.
Each olive is about 20 percent oil, so it takes a huge number of olives to produce a litre of oil – normally about 200! However, with the finer and more expensive oils, it sometimes takes the fruit of an entire tree to produce a litre.
In Tuscany, as in most of Italy, the olives are pressed at a communal mill which is called a Frantoio. At the frantoio, many growers bring their olives to be pressed, but each grower is proud of his olives and comes along with them to the mill, to be sure that only his harvest goes into the pressing. A centuries old tradition still very much alive and well in rural Tuscany!
Flavours offer Italian cooking holidays at two venues in Tuscany, Villa Maria (close to Florence) and Villa Segalato (close to Lucca). Flavours also offer Pilates and Painting holidays in Tuscany.

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Laura in Paris said...

I enjoyed reading this post, I learned a lot about olive oil. I love Italian olive oil, right now I am using extra virgin Primagoccia which I ind very nice.

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