November is olive harvest season in Italy. This is the time the olives are turning from green to black and are at the perfect level of ripeness to press them for oil. We had heard how incredible olive oil is when just pressed, going straight from the press to bruschetta – toasted bread. This year we built our Taste of Orvieto trip around the season to take advantage of the harvest.
It is a lot of fun to spend the day in the field harvesting olives, taking them to the press, watching the oil emerge and putting it on your own bruschetta. And that is precisely what we did.
Large olive orchards now harvest with a machine which gently shakes the tree to dislodge the olives. But thousand of Italians maintain their own small orchard and continue to harvest in the traditional way. It was this experience that we enjoyed.
We spread nets under our trees to capture the olives as we raked them off the branches. Slowly the olives gathered underfoot and began to accumulate. We used sticks attached to our rakes to reach the higher branches. The branches do not go too high – trees are pruned yearly for height control, to open the middle for good air circulation and light, and because olives do not grow on old growth. As the olives accumulated we would lift the nets to get them all together so we could more easily pick them up in baskets.
We worked 4 trees over the course of the day netting over 450 pounds of olives! Finally, we gathered all the olives and headed to the mill. The olives climbed up a conveyor to drop on the other side where the “dirty parts” – leaves, twigs and dirt – were separated and the olives washed. Then into the press where they were crushed to a paste which has to be mixed for an extended time. The last step is the use of a centrifuge to separate the oil from water.
Tasting the oil as it emerged from the centrifuge going straight to our bruschetta was delectable. And the color simply amazing. The result of our day’s work was we each left with oil to take home with us to enjoy.
What we did is exactly the same process that the many small growers continue to employ today. They pick their olives, take it to the mill, watch and wait as their olives are turned into oil and then leave with containers full of oil for the year. It is a time worn tradition and rite, and what fun it was to be able to experience it!
The next Taste of Orvieto trip is October 18 – 25, 2015.
Kristi and Bill Steiner began leading “learning vacations” to Orvieto, Italy in 2003. Through Adventures in Italy they provide a cultural immersion experience. Many trips include the pursuit of some kind of creative work that complements and reinforces exploration of Italy’s culture. Relationships built over the years enable Kristi and Bill to provide experiences that a typical visitor to Orvieto never gets.
Learn more about Kristi and Bill’s trips. Stay abreast of Adventures in Italy developments, and follow Bill’s musings about travel and Italy on his blog Make Haste Slowly. View Bill’s photos of Italy, Orvieto, and other memorable places at steinerstudiophotos.com, and follow him on Instagram.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.