The Olive Harvest

I haven’t written much about the olives in past posts, but following the comments about the post for Wordless Wednesday I thought I would explain the process.

We don’t have many trees (or plants as they are called by country people), there are 15 trees that are about 19 years old (so very young in olive terms) and 2 that are about 7 years old and are very small.

Olives in April 2008

I don’t use any chemicals as I feel that rather defeats the object of producing our own oil.  I also don’t feed them as the ground, being volcanic, is very fertile.  We keep the grass and wild flowers cut most of the time and there is no irrigation to the olives so that they are without water for 3 or 4 months every summer.

Olive flowers are very small and appear in May I think, although I don’t usually notice the flowers until I start sneezing as I am slightly allergic to their pollen – this doesn’t cause me any problems as they aren’t in flower for very long.

During summer the olives form the backdrop to the garden and in winter their silvery green foliage remains a bright spot in the garden.

This year we harvested 3 quintale (300kg).  The olives are picked by hand or rather with a small plastic rake that resembles the rakes children use on the beach.  We spread large nets around the trees and pull the olives from the branches, they make a very satisfying sound as they are freed from the tree and drop onto the nets – you have to be very careful not to stamp on the olives you’ve already picked as damaged olives don’t taste as good.  We keep our olives pruned so that they don’t grow tall and they can be picked easily from the ground; using ladders is precarious and slows the picking process down enormously.

Picking out the unwanted leaves

This year we picked most of the trees on Friday with the help of a group of volunteer students who did a fantastic job, we did the rest on Saturday and Sunday and then loaded the trays and sacks of olives into the cars and drove to the mill.

About half the olives in one car

As we don’t have a huge harvest and we want the best possible quality of oil we take the olives to be pressed at a traditional mill that cold presses and uses traditional mill stones to squash the olives.  Larger mills will only press a large weight of olives separately and obviously as ours are chemical free and therefore organic we don’t want them mixed with other peoples olives – one becomes very obsessive about these things!

On arrival at the mill the olives are all put in large crates (plural means there are quite a lot for us) and weighted, you are then given a receipt for your olives and a time when they are likely to be pressed so that you can go to watch (read check that you aren’t being cheated!) your olives being pressed.

One crate waiting to be weighed

2 crates being weighed

The process begins with the olives being taken up a conveyer belt and air blown across to remove any leaves and small twigs, we try to remove as many as possible when we’re putting them into trays but there are always some we miss.  They then go into the giant container with two huge mill stones and are squashed to make a paste that is then spread onto mats.

Not just the leaves from our olives

Mill stones turning

Spreading the olive paste onto the mats

The mats are piled on top of each other and these are then pressed, no heat is used, to release the wonderful green oil.

All the lovely oil being pressed out from the mats

Your oil is then poured into a large white tub and finally weighed again.

Can you believe the colour?

This year we got 39 kg, which is about 48 litres; we are ver, very happy.  On arrival home the oil is put in stainless steel containers and I have a great sense of wellbeing knowing that I have delicious oil to use for the year.  For the first few weeks the oil is amazingly peppery – it tastes like a complete salad dressing without adding anything.  We eat bruschetta, beans (this year our own Barlotti beans) and soups all with the addition of a generous drizzle of oil.  The colour is unbelievable! I wish I could share the taste with you.

14 thoughts on “The Olive Harvest

  1. Absolutely fascinating post Christina, you must have answered everyones questions! It’s so good that you can keep your organic olives separate from the others. Such an interesting process to the end result which is such an amazing colour!

  2. Thanks for sharing the process with us, it’s fascinating, and I love the vivid colour of your oil. Great to have your produce independently processed, so that you can say “we grew this!”.

  3. “read check that you aren’t being cheated!”…
    That made me laugh! Welcome to Italy! Because they probably cheat you when they weigh the goods… 🙂 The weigher looks like a good kid though!

    Very interesting ‘making of’ reportage, I loved the picture with people’s hands amongst black and green olives, it really represents lushness.
    The colour of your oil is amazing!

    • We’ve learnt this thing about the mills cheating you from Italian friends; it wouldn’t have crossed our minds. When they weigh them one of us watches the driver take the forks completely away and the other is in the office seeing the weight. The crates might weigh more than they say though………! Christina

  4. This is absolutely fascinating. Thanks for explaining the process so clearly. Oh, how I would like to have 48 litres of my own home-grown olive oil. That would last me well over a year I think!

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