For six weeks in the autumn of 2015 my family and I harvested over 4000 kilos of olives from our five acres in the Valle d’Itria area of Puglia, southern Italy. The olives were milled into a delicious, fruity and nutty extra-virgin oil with a low acidity level of 0.02%. The olive trees, some of which are over 400 years old, are nestled among almond, walnut, cherry, fig, pear, persimmon and pomegranate trees, on land that has been farmed solely organically for the last 15 years. It was an exceptionally good year for olives, following 2014 as one of the worst olive years in history. The weather was perfect and the company, a mix of family and friends, even better. It was such a joyful and beautiful harvest.
Olive tree blossoms in springtime
Olive tree blossoms
The first day of a 6 week long harvest period.
The first step of the olive harvest is to repair the holes in the nets from the previous year. This year I had some extra feline help.
We hand pick all of our olives. This was the first tree picked.
The four different types of olives harvested on the first day.
The different colors of olives from one tree.
Olive and the Pickers
Olive trees are incredibly resistant. This tree, and many of our 120 olive trees are around 400 years old. They rot from the inside, leaving many trunks and large branches hollow. The new wood grows around the old or rotted wood.
One of our biggest trees, full and heavy with ogliarola olives.
Ogliarola Salentina Olives
A large, old tree that was pruned during the harvest.
The ladders of the harvest.
During picking the olives fall into the nets below.
The nets are gathered and the olives put into crates.
The essential tools of the harvest if you are picking by hand
Another essential tool is the “ciao-ciao”. The ciao-ciao is an pneumatic rake on a long handle, made of light plastic, that flaps the branches of the trees causing the olives to fall. It’s a necessary tool for tall trees.
A minimum of 200 kg of olives are needed for one press. The sooner you can get them to the press the better the oil will taste. We take olives every other day, assuring that the olives are always pressed within 36-48 hours of being picked.
The crates with a lot of leaves are put into an olive cleaning machine that separates out the olives from the leaves.
Zibibo, always near; our quality control.
After being cleaned the olives are taken to the “frantoio”, or the press. There is a minimum of 200 kg of olives needed for one press.
The small crates of olives are taken to the frantoio.
A beautiful trullo on the frantoio’s property
The olives are unloaded into a “cassone”, a large crate, and are weighed. The “bidone” is the cannister that the oil will be put into after being pressed.
The olives in the cassone
Cassoni of olives waiting to be processed. The presses run all night during the olive season to make sure the olives are pressed as soon as possible.
The cassone of olives is dumped into a hopper.
The olives are washed and any stray leaves are removed.
After being washed, the olives are milled and turned into paste that is mixed for about an hour. There is light heat added at this stage to loosen the fruit of the olive from the seed. To be considered “cold extracted” or “cold pressed” the temperature must be kept low, below 27-30 degrees celsius, for the oil to retain all the nutrients and flavor.
The paste is then sent to a centrifuge (in the foreground) which separates the water from the oil.
The oil is then funnelled into the bidone.
The first thing we do when we bring home a new press is to taste it by spoonful and then with bread. No salt, pepper, cheese, etc needed. Pure, fresh, deliciousness.
Tasting the difference of the first five presses- each press with it’s own unique flavor.
Twelve samples from our fourteen different presses in 2015.
Our oil for sale in one liter tins. Organic. Extra-virgin. Acidity level 0.02%. Cold-extracted. Unfiltered.
There are centuries-old olive trees in this area of Puglia, some over 1000 years old. They are called the “secolari”.
Amidst the secolari trees are abandoned ancient olive mills.
An abandoned stone olive mill underground.
A favorite winter dish of “fave”, fava beans, and foraged “cicchoria”, chicory, swimming in fresh olive oil.