Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Olive Oil 2

Fruit of the Month: the Olive
The Olive Harvest 2013

Recently (January 2014) a horrifying animated chart appeared in the New York Times exposing (not for the first time) olive oil fraud. This should make us appreciate the small producers more and understand that their prices are high for a good reason. And here is an excellent blog by Tom Mueller which covers the subject of olive oil and oil fraud very well.
For more on olive oil please see last year's post as well.

I was unable to participate in the olive harvest this year as planned, but a friend who took part for the first time has provided some photos and a couple of excellent short films to give an idea of how things are done nowadays in Chianti.

This year rain was a problem: it held up the harvest from one day to the next. But in the end everyone managed to make their oil.

Once upon a time a small rake was used to pull the olives from the trees: this most delicate method is kind to the olives and the rest of the tree, but is highly labour-intensive and lengthy. Most today rely on some sort of mechanized system: in our area, what is know locally as a frullino (whisk) or twittering rake, which minimizes damage and gets the job done much faster than hand held raking. However this twittering rake, powered by a rechargeable battery, represents a substantial investment, over €1000.

The olives fall onto giant nets on the ground and are then gathered up and poured into plastic cases which are delivered to the olive press or frantoio. Others harvest using a tractor-powered twitterer: the olives fall into a net that opens out from the tractor.  With such a net, the harvesters need not lift.The quicker this is done the better: the oil will be lower (my apologies for earlier writing higher!) in acidity and of optimum quality. **

In the past, people caught the falling olives in military parachutes, which some people still use for isolated trees, or trees close to the edges of terraces. The new thing is to harvest with very long, roughly 35-metre strips of broad netting placed along either side of the trees - if they are in rows.  It makes the harvest efficient without excessive loading and moving of the netting.

frantoio, moraiolo, leccino, pendolino are some of the principal varieties cultivated for oil in Chianti 
Here you can admire how the frullino works:

and here you can peek inside a modern frantoio:

(ps my sources tell me that this yield was quite good for 2013.  Most people's yield was much lower in Chianti.)

This frantoio, in Panzano, called the Azienda Olearia del Chianti, has recently updated all its machinery and uses nitrogen to do the cold press. This is state of the art technology. The Olearia is much appreciated locally for its accessibility, speed and efficiency. 

a product of the Olearia which can be bought at the supermarket

olio nuovo - new oil in all its cloudy glory

olio nuovo, cold-pressed at local frantoio

**The slight burning sensation in the throat, considered a virtue in these parts in the best new oil, has nothing to do with acidity. The closer you get to zero acidity, (and you can't get to zero itself), the better. However, there are other components that make fine oil, among them the different flavours of the various olive varieties, ripeness when harvested (locals try to harvest when the olives are more or less half green, half black), and the weather. 
Friends who produce oil have had, in past years, pretty close to zero acidity (approx. 0.5%) with loads of the spiciness or bite which comes from the relative half-ripeness of the olives, specially noticeable when the oil is newly-pressed.
In France, they don't harvest until the end of December; all of the olives are black, and the oil is bland.

With thanks to Jaap Romers 
for the beautiful photos and videos. 
And to Eleanor and Alice for their know-how.


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