Last week I was invited on an impromptu visit in the Tuscan countryside. i was in the process of moving, I was just recovering from a bad cold and I was the only one who could drive a manual transmission. But I knew this was one of those opportunities that one has to take and I wanted to check out the infamous number two.In Italy number one is and always will be wine…really good wine. A close second has to be olives. In the past few months I have learned more about olive oil than I ever imagined. I learned that the oil is best when it is fresh and the new harvest oils have the strongest flavor; bitter and green and spicy. i learned that bitter, green and spicy is something you seek in an oil and there are regions and varieties that speak to these notes more than others. I have grown to love olive oil and have an appreciation for this beautiful golden- green liquid, i never gave thought to before.So, Tuscany. I was invited to attend an olive harvest at the home of my classmate Francesco. Three of us drove the 5 hours south to their beautiful farm just outside Florence. Exhausted, I was welcomed with a roaring fire, bean and kale soup and a roast pork. Falling asleep at the table, I was soon-after tucked into a massive bed, buried under three duvets and woke eleven hours later to begin my lessons in oil.
The process is simple. Place an enormous net under your tree. Your tree will most likely be on a steep slope so use sticks and what-nots to keep the olives from rolling down the hill. Use a ladder or climb your tree to reach the higher branches and use your hands or a handheld rake to reach the lower ones. Collect your olives in your net, dump them in the baskets and move your net to the next tree…Do this for 2-3 hours and stop for a massive lunch, several bottles of wine and a three hour nap..wait that was just me.
When I awoke at five that evening, it was time to take our harvest to the mill, before the olives began to oxidize. Francesco took us to a small mill that continues to press olives with a traditional open air method. The producer allowed me to stick my finger in the fresh oil to taste it. I had never seen the actual production of olive oil before. The air was heady with the aromas of crushed olive. We then went to a slightly more modern mill where the oil is not introduced to the air until the last moment. i watched this cloudy green liquid pour out of the spigot and was mesmerized…it was beautiful.So in less than 12 hours, I took an olive from the tree to my bread and experienced the wonders of the new olive oil harvest, I had only heard about in lecture. 2012 oil is a good year! I got myself three liters. My flat mates and I put it on everything! Thank you Francesco!