It’s when the first chill of winter air begins to fill our lungs and we start to think about swapping our mid afternoon gelato for the warm comfort of cappuccino that we know olive harvest season has begun. And what a time of year this is for olive growers in Tuscany! This is when the olives are harvested and taken to the press to make their coveted oil.
During my visit to Villa La Quercia in Impruneta in October, it was just the beginning of the harvest. A little early to pick for most people as this past year was rainy and the olives were retaining too much water. I did get to see the Frantoio, this is where they do the olive pressing and I can tell you, the aromas as you walk in, were incredible. The sweet, wonderful smell of freshly pressed olives. Delizioso!
In Tuscany, olives are still picked by hand which makes olive harvesting laborious or as the olive farmers would say – a labor of love. Once the olives are ripe, they must be harvested before they either fall from the tree or before it rains, which makes harvesting much more difficult. The fruit are picked green and rushed to the press to avoid spoiling. It’s a process that requires a lot of patience and diligence and if you ever have the chance to meet and talk with the olive growers you’ll find the pride they take in the process is eminent.
This is definitely olive oil buying season when practically everyone who lives in Tuscany is scrambling to buy their favorite Tuscan oil which is known for its particularly strong and peppery flavor. Unlike wine which we know improves with age, olive oil is best when consumed young. Tuscans know that you never get the same hit of intense flavor as you do when consumed during and immediately following the harvest so come November, they savor it while it’s at its freshest. And let me tell you, when you drizzle the fresh homegrown olive oil onto a chunk of Tuscan bread… there’s nothing quite like the taste of that.
To harvest the olives you walk through the groves with gloved hands, carrying rakes and baskets and pass by several varieties of olives that are not ripened yet until you finally find a few trees amongst the hundreds of trees with a load of ripened fruit. Select a tree. Look for olives. Reach up, rake down and pull the olives off of their branches.
If you happen to be in Italy in November or December, visit an orchard that opens itself to the public and harvest olives for yourself. What an experience! I hope to add this experience to my culinary trip to Tuscany in 2014, if the timing is right. If not, I am sure while doing a Tuscan cooking class, we will have a chance to do some tastings! If you are in Tuscany right about now, that new olive oil is on the shelves! Treat yourself.
Carol Ketelson is the owner and operator of Delectable Destinations LLC. Dedicated to planning, co-ordinating and curating customized group tours to hand-picked destinations. As an experienced travel planner, Carol’s customized itineraries, specialized tours and off-the-beaten-path experiences create memorable journeys for her small groups of singles, couples, divorced, widowed and solo travelers seeking exceptional trips into the culture and cuisine of destinations around the world. Spring and Fall bookings invite travelers to taste delectable local cuisine, culturally rich traditions and mesmerizing sights. For over 10 years, Carol’s tours have captured the true essence of Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Puglia, Spain, Ireland and India.
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