Olives are key to the Mediterranean cultures and the oils produced vary widely. Olives trees like to grow on rocky hills with a lot of sun and wind. The many varieties of olives grow green and then darken as they ripen on the tree. They eventually turn a purplish black, before fully black, and begin falling off of the tree. Knowing this now you can imagine that harvesting is done at all stages of ripening. This variance effects the quality and quantity of the oil producing a wide variety of flavors. The greener the olive the more pungent and peppery. The blacker the olive the more volume and smooth butteriness flavors are expressed. Around the Mediterranean there are endless flavors being produced by these wonderful varieties of olives and it makes tasting and cooking with them really fun and exciting!
In Italy it is common practice to harvest the olives together as a caravan. Neighbors and family members gather to one field and drop down netting on the well groomed orchard grounds. Little handheld rakes are then used to comb through the branches and pull the olives from the tree. as the tree is freed of all of its olives the netting is lifted forcing the olives to collect near the base of each tree. Then the netting is lifted and the olives get poured into buckets and cases until ready to process. The caravan moves to the next farm and all help each other harvest their olives together as a community. Its a very special event to partake in, with lots of pride and joy for the olives and trees as well as age old family traditions and lifelong friendships are reinforced.
Once the olives are all harvested most are taken to the communal oil press and processed for a fee or a portion of the goods!
The olives get run through a bath of clean water and the leaves and branches get removed. Then the olives are conveyed up to a press and crushed to extract the meat from the pit. The solids are removed from the batch then run through a centrifuge separating the oil from the water. The oil then sits in tanks until the solids have time to settle to the bottom of the barrels. Interestingly you can see the taps are set kind of high on olive tanks so that they avoid pouring any sediment into the cans in bottling this first press, extra virgin olive oil. It takes about 6 to 8 weeks to settle and the wait it definitely worth it. I highly recommend trying fresh olive oil from local producers whenever possible.