When some people plan vacations, they look at glossy brochures of cruise ships or spectacular casinos in Las Vegas. Me? I’m looking over a brochure for a tour to Tuscany that offers me the privilege of picking olives during the next olive harvest. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
I thought about going to one of the olive tree groves in California where they let you pick, and I may end up doing that. But just for grins, I want to read up on doing it the old world way. So many of the small villages have festivals around the harvests too. I like festivals. Don’t you?
Don’t bother telling me that they do it the same way in Cali.
Different countries have different times of harvest due to climate differences. Because of this, the same varieties may get harvested at a different calendar month than others. Generally in Tuscany, harvest occurs in November. In Crete, it can start later and run through March.
I found out if olives are hand-picked, the first thing you do is spread huge nets beneath the trees so you won’t lose any. You wear gloves though I guess if you have tough hands, you can do it bare-handed. You scrape your hands along the branches, kind of raking the olives from the tree. If you want to protect your hands, then you can use special rakes for this.
Most trees in the orchards are of the dwarf variety. So to get the olives from high up in the tree, a rather light-weight person can simply climb up in the branches and rake them off.
I’m thinking, given the steep slope of some of the olive groves I saw in Italy, it’s hard to keep all the olives corralled once they fall to the ground. Wonder if they have an olive wrangler who takes care of strays?
In the middle of the day, a huge feast is laid out for the pickers. Just reading about it makes me hungry. You can eat your fill, but afterwards you can’t take a siesta. It’s back to work.
Once all the olives are picked, they’re taken to the oil factory. A lot of villages still have olive presses. Back in the day, olive picking and oil processing were long-drawn out processes. Now, with the help of modern machinery like the centrifuge that extracts the oil, it doesn’t take nearly as long to get the oil yet quality of the oil is not compromised. It’s still cold processed which is hugely important because heat processing changes the chemical composition of the oil.
At the mill, once the olives are washed and crushed, and the oil separates, it’s stored in metal tanks or glass bottles, never plastic. This first oil is the extra virgin, sometimes called first press even though it may not be pressed but placed in a centrifuge.
Big commercial olive oil producers make use of all they can get from the olive including the waste.
Sounds like a lot of hard work, but lots of fun! You’ve got to admire the olive grove owner who thought this up. Smart! Get American tourists to pay for the privilege of picking his olives. Sweet. I think I’ll start saving my pennies so I can be one of his American olive pickers.
Wonder if they give you a commemorative tee shirt?
“I picked olives in Tuscany, and all I got was this T-shirt.”