It must be a sign that the climate is changing as the ultra traditional Italian country folk are now picking their olives earlier than ever. 13 years ago, when we first gathered a meagre crop from our neglected trees November was considered the traditional picking month, some starting after the All Saints’ Day on 1 November, others waiting until San Martino on 11th, the day for opening that years’ new wine. The press would run well into December, sometimes right up to Christmas Eve. Those visiting their Italian country estate to harvest their olives during the British half term holiday in late October would have to carefully schedule themselves around the one afternoon that the odd press would open that week.

Jakes and Sofia down tools for a rest.

This year the summer was so hot and long that the olives started maturing early in September and by mid October the fields were littered with people anxious to enjoy the autumn sunshine and gather up their bountiful yields. An added bonus being the ability to pick for longer as daylight wasting time hadn’t even begun. Hot dry weather is the nemesis of the flies that lay their larvae in the olive so there was no chance of the blight which devastated previous harvests.

Our local press installed state of the art processing equipment this year and was challenged to open earlier than tradition dictates, with a few teething issues they made it. Producing the oil in a closed environment limits the opportunities for it to react with the air so keeps it fresh.

Results of our work.

The down side is the loss of the giant granite grinding wheels which transform the whole olives, stones, skins and all, into a pulp. As well as being mesmerising to watch, the time consuming process produces the most wonderful aroma which used to fill the whole building. But the process of crushing the olives, churning the paste then separating out the water in a centrifuge has not changed and the oil still emerges, almost fluorescent green, from a single tap into the motley collection of containers which the customers have brought along to take their oil home in.

We started picking our olives last week, assisted on the first tree by the guests on our gourmet weekend. Friday evening we filled 2 cars with as many olives as they could carry and took 900Kg to the press, emerging some time later with about 100 litres of ultra fresh oil.

Computer says “Fichi”

For staunch traditionalists the older process at the press has been maintained, always known as the “old press” this room still has the granite grinding wheels and the stack of circular once straw, now nylon, mats sandwiching the paste is built up to over a metre in height. This is loaded into presses over 60 years old to have the oil squeezed out. When you tire of monitoring your oil’s progress on the computer monitor you can still stroll through be hypnotised by the grinding wheels and fill your lungs with the wonderful smell of fresh olives. Though only in November.

Share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on Twitter