Monday, November 7, 2011

Olive Oil

I haven't been printing or carving recently as I've spent most of the last two weeks climbing trees. We've been picking olives on my wife's family's fields. While it has been gloriously beautiful--blue skies, warm days, no rain and really nice olives this year it has been pretty exhausting.
It is completely uneconomic.....if you factor in tilling the fields/pruning the trees twice a year/mowing the grass/Removing the suckers/new growth from the trees twice a year; spraying to keep the fungal diseases at bay (at least 2-3 times/year with copper sulfate--still allowed even in organic production due to it's "natural origins" and historic use-not to mention the lack of a decent alternative). Then there is the whole project of picking by hand, tree by tree and pretty much, olive by olive and getting the olives to the press and then processed into oil.

But as you can imagine from the photos above, that the non-economic benefits are priceless. There is something magical about being able to grow and produce your own oil. We're lucky to live in the country and have the amazing great fortune of being able to be outdoors and doing something that would be an unimaginable dream for so many.

We can BUY decent Italian olive oil for as little as 4 Euro a bottle for inferior (but still pretty good) oil from Sicily or Puglia in the South, and "local" Tuscan oil for more like 10-11 Euro/liter. But the "cost" of producing it--the picking, pruning, socializing and participating in a task/process that has been going on for thousands of years is also one of the major non-economic benefits. I'd have to PAY someone 10-15 euro/hour to pick olives but I can do it for nothing except my time.
And I'd rather spend the day up a tree in the countryside than a lot of other jobs I've done in my life.

Today was spent at the press. After dropping the kids at school, We drove the rented van three times to the nearest small press as 1000kg was about the safest it could carry. We joined our olives with those of our neighbors (also relatives) to cut on transport and press charges.
We picked 6.4 Quintale (640kg) of olives from which we obtained about 90 Kg of oil.
(a little more than 90 Liters). We left about 1/3 of the trees unpicked--it did finally rain and we'll have to consider going back into the fields and back to the press next week.

The frantoio was an amazing place--with the misty air of aerosolized olive oil.
A forklift dumps the picked olives into the waiting bins.
A conveyer belt will take them up a steep ramp from which they will fall into a washing tank, but not before dropping in front of a large fan that will blow/suck off most of the leaves. The olives are then washed, then gravity fed to the next machine where they will be crushed/minced/macerated into a paste. This will then again be washed then centrifuged to spin off the lighter oil from the water and pit debris. The oil emerges one building away from the spout of the centrifuge. It is unfiltered as we choose to keep it freshly pressed and alive. The machines stay cool and this remains cold-pressed, "extra-virgin" olive oil.

The oil emerges a green that seems to be too unreal to be a color that could exist in nature and everywhere there are olives and containers and tractors and men smoking and shuffling about.
The color will last a few weeks to months if the oil is kept dark, but a bottle left on the counter will change color in just a few hours.
The spicy, slightly bitter and biting flavor of new oil will also last just a few days to weeks and will then mellow. The oil will keep for several years without spoiling but we will try to consume it within 1-2 years--we try to keep enough for two as we don't get decent oil every year and like to have some on hand if next year is a bust.
We will distribute oil to all who helped pick as well as friends and relatives who don't have trees or the possibility of picking.

Tonight it's pane, olio, ed aglio;
Toasted bread, rubbed with raw garlic and then generously doused with the piquant new oil and salt.

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