Friday, December 17

Picking Olives in Italy - The Harvest & Cold Press

We recently got a call from our friend Marco inviting us to help his family pick olives in southern Le Marche.  How 'quintessentially Italian' I thought, of course we're in - are you kidding!? I have always wanted to pick olives! We grabbed our boots & gloves & jumped in the car.
As we made our way up the hills and down around the shallow valleys we found ourselves just outside the picturesque village of Ostra (Le Marche) in a tiny olive grove of 70 trees. 

 We turned down a gravel road to meet an old couple picking olives as well. Marco scoffed  "look how they use a machine, we do it by hand." I was just amazed that these 80 year old were out in the trees regardless!

 As we walked through the grove Marco pointed out the different varieties of olive trees and estimated their ages. Piu vecchio, piu oliva, piu buono. (The older, the more olives, the better tasting)

 It’s really quite simple -
Lay out the net, spreading it wide around the tree with poles holding up the edges so the olives don’t just go rolling down the hill. Then you get up in the tree & comb out the olives with a big plastic comb/claw. The branches are more flexible they you may think. Once the tree is clean you roll up the netting, shaking the olives down to the bottom of the net. Then gathering them into crates. 
One tree can yield 20-40 kilos.

Italians love their olive oil - 100 liters of oil a year are consumed by a family of 3-4.

After a hearty lunch we headed back into to the grove - we needed to get picking because a storm was headed our way. It is best to pick the olives dry so we needed to get as many plucked before the rains arrived. Once the inevitable storm stopped our work we jumped in the car & Marco took us to the press.

At the mill, barrels of olives are cold pressed with granite wheels running 24 hours a day for 3 months straight. Ever half hour the hopper starts again with a new batch (at least 200 kilos) of olives ready to be pressed. It takes a total of an hour & half to run through the mill.
First air & vibrations remove leaves. Then granite wheels rotate & crush the olives (pit & all). After that the olive mush moves to a vat with a bit of water & persuades the oil to rise to the top (passing through this twice). The oil is then cooled as the friction with the stone causes the oil to naturally heat up. Finally it then goes through a series of centrifuges to separate the olive from the water. And that's it! The question then is to filter or not.  Marco recommends sticking to non-filtered because in the winter the oil congeals and the heavy sediment sinks to the bottom.  In spring the sediment is removed & voila' - cold pressed, non filtered extra virgin olive oil!

 Grazie mille Marco for the memorable day & the beautiful lunch with your family. As we left he gave us a thank you gift of fresh pressed olive oil & homemade wine! We can't wait to help next year!
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