Olive harvest experiences in Italy
Italy is renowned to have one of the best olive oils in the world. And as an Italian myself, I can’t disagree! But there’s quite a lot of work that goes into making the perfect extra virgin olive oil. And you get to experience some of that hard work when you do the olive harvest. Among the most unforgettable experiences one can have in Italy, harvesting olives is at the top of the list.
I’ve recently experienced my first olive harvest ever in October. It was in Castiglione in Teverina, a few hours from Rome. Culture Discovery invited me, I had a blast and won’t definitely miss it next year! So let’s get into the technicalities, shall we?
The olive harvest starts with picking olives. You head out to the fields and you spread out huge nets below the trees, which will be used to gather the olives when they fall. You’re given gloves and a rake, and one branch at a time, you rake down the olives by hand. It’s super important that you don’t step on the olives!
After you’ve raked down the olives, the nets are gathered, olives collected and placed in baskets which are taken to the olive mill. It’s super important that the olives are pressed on the same day they’re picked to ensure a high quality olive oil. Once the olives are at the mill, they get separated from the leaves and dirt and cleaned.
The olives are then placed in a tank, where they get sucked up and then grounded. The result is a homogenous paste which is stirred for a while. The paste is then put into a “cold press “which compresses the olive paste–this is a key step because the the solid part is divided from the liquid part. The liquid part is then sent into a vertical centrifuge that separates the olive oil from the water, and voilà, what’s left is olive oil!
But not all olive oil is the same! What’s the difference between extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and olive oil? The classification depends on the acidity parameter of the olive oil, which is tested in a lab. For extra virgin olive oil, the acidity must be lower than or equal to 0.8, for virgin olive oil it’s between 0.8 and 2, while for regular olive oil it should be more than or equal to 2. The less acidic the olive oil, the better the olive oil. Why? Because the acidity checks the amount of saturated fat, less saturated fat means higher quality olive oil.
So the question is: how do you obtain the low acidity needed to produce extra virgin olive oil? There are three steps you should follow!
- Pick the olives in autumn! We don’t harvest olives in autumn just for the pretty colors! Olives are greener during the fall, while in wintertime they become black and the acidity levels increase. And you know what that means–high acidity levels equals lower quality olive oil.
- You should press the olives on the same day they are picked. The maximum amount of time you should wait to press the olives is 48 hours since you’ve harvested them. That’s because after 48 hours, the olives start becoming moldy and become more acidic.
- Cold press the olive paste! When you press the olive paste it must be cold. If the paste is hot, the acidity increases when they get pressed.
So there you have it, if you want to produce top quality extra virgin olive oil, follow these steps!
I know… easier said than done!