The olive harvest in Tuscany can take place at anytime from November through to the end of February. The advantages of picking earlier is because the weather in November is often fantastic with sunny days and temperatures touching 80 & winter winds can blow the olives on to the ground below. We generally pick ours in November, providing Gian Franco, our local farmer has given us the nod that the olives are ripe. The grass surrounding the trees is carefully strimmed so the nets can be carefully laid flat.
It is the Italian’s Harvest festival & always very atmospheric – small tractors are chugging up the little roads laden with crates of olives. Everyone is outside manically shaking their trees by traditional methods or with an electronic tickler, which we feel is quicker & more productive. The daylight hours are shorter at this time of year so everyone works hard so they end the day with lots of full crates. It is a very time consuming process; olives trees are often in precarious positions or on mountain terracing.
During the spring months it is important to prune the olive trees, reducing the suckers & too many shoots. The ideal shape should replicate a wide champagne glass & this will help when removing the olives in the autumn & winter
During November the restaurants are often full in the evening with tired and hungry people waiting to tuck into seasonal favourites like cinghiale (wild boar) and artichokes which are delicious finely sliced over veal chops.
It is crucial to have the correct green to black proportions when making olive oil. Too many green olives results in acidic olive oil. Most olive groves are planted accordingly. We have 60% Frantoio green olives, 25 % Rosciola di Rotello, which is a green olive with a red tinge with the remain trees being the black olive, Tirana. Tuscan olive oil is famous for the peppery kick in the back of the throat.
The day of the process is a fun day. The machinery at the Frantoiana is working 24 hours a day, every day of the week & booking is required weeks in advance, unless of course you have contacts in high places, like old established restaurant owners.
Everyone is extremely friendly & helpful. The cars & vans are off loaded and olives emptied into huge plastic crates. The first machine removes all the leaves, then the olives are washed and crushed for approximately one hour into an off white paste.
The process is extremely accurate & precise and usually takes 3 hours.
Eventually after all the churning the oil is ready to be poured & sieved into our large metal vats. The colour of fresh oil is amazing with tones varying from bright yellow to green.
Once every drop has been collected we take the vats home and immediately bottle it into dark bottles to prevent the effect from light and store it in a cool barn. Of course, we have to do a taste test; simply the better, ciabatta, a hint of salt and the pure liquid gold. Quite delicious.
There is always a lot of rivalry between one producer and another. Ours has to be the best…
The certificate from the Frantoio said the analysis was ‘Excellent’, very low acidity, which is typical for Lucchese olive oil. Anything lower than 2% is Virgin olive oil, lower than .08%
is Extra Virgin. Ours was 0.2% which makes it Extra Extra Virgin Olive Oil – pure liquid gold. Such a rewarding few days on the slopes in the November sunshine, simply wonderful.