Time of olives, the magic of new oil
It’s olive harvest season. Time stops; nets and parachutes burst open like giant mushrooms in the November green olive orchards surrounding Florence. This is where one of the world’s best quality extra virgin olive oil is produced even if it is a difficult year for the olive harvest, too much rain has damaged the crop, but the quality of processed olives in oil is excellent as always.
Fairly out of place with every day’s frantic pace, harvesting olives in the hills around Florence has little to do with time, money, traffic, or pollution. Every year, when olives start to ripen from green to black, we drift to a different era, bringing back the values of good quality life, friendship, teamwork, and peace. Olive picking is a fun, fruitful, and healthy open-air activity. Contact with nature hardly gets more intimate than swinging on an olive branch amid perfumed leaves, watching the world from a different perspective, from under showers of olives. The happy celebration reaches its climax at the stone mill, where a precious golden liqueur is extracted from the gathered fruit.
Olive oil has been more than mere condiment to the peoples of the Mediterranean; it has been medicinal and magical, as well as an endless source of fascination and wonder. The culture originated in the Caucasus, where a bushy tree was pruned to produce more of its oily fruit, a magical procedure that travelled to Syria, Palestine, Crete, and Egypt between 5000 BCE and 1400 BCE, than to Southern Italy with the Greek populations.
In Tuscany olive cultivation arrived around 600 BCE by the Etruscans, who adopted oil like the symbol of abundance, glory, and peace. In subsequent centuries, the Romans increased their wealth by spreading the source of profitable oil trades across the peninsula and since then, their number has only been increasing. There are currently over 500 kinds of olive trees in Italy, and their cultivation has fascinated many regions of the world.
Best quality oils are harvested ex albis ulivis, that is from the olive tree when olives are still green. Forcing the olives to fall on nets carefully laid out, twenty to thirty kilos of olives for an average size tree are gathered into boxes, and are either laid out for no more than a few days or brought immediately for milling in batches of up to 300 kilos. The amount of time between harvest and milling will influence taste.
Around Florence the production areas of higher quality are those of Sesto Fiorentino, Maiano and Impruneta. This oil that flowing out of impeccably clean inox equipment, a mystical glowing green juice illuminates the mill and it is stored to preserved by avoiding oxidation with air particles, a reaction enhanced by heat or light, which is why olive oil is bottled and preserved in dark glass, despite its flashy look when presented in transparent amphorae.