It’s time for ‘olio nuovo’ in Tuscany
Tuscany today is still a region with a strong rural character, its agricultural products being synonymous of quality and excellence in Italy and abroad. If the month of September is traditionally dedicated to the grape harvest and the production of great Tuscan wines, October and November are dedicated to another Tuscan product of excellence: olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVVO) is one of the base ingredients in Tuscan and Italian cuisine and anyone that cooks knows that a good EVVO (even better if organic) is indispensable for the success of many dishes.
If you find yourself in Tuscany during these weeks, take the occasion to learn more about olive oil by following the various phases of its production from the field to the table. You can see how olives are harvested, follow the olives to the oil-mill and obviously taste the freshly pressed olive oil.
Many Tuscan dishes are perfect for tasting new olive oil, from the simple bruschetta to the ribollita to “zuppa Toscana” or Tuscan soup .
You can find excellent recipe ideas for more Tuscan dishes at Tuscan Recipes .
The olive harvest
Large agricultural estates use modern equipment and tools to facilitate the olive harvest but the majority of smaller and recreational producers (by these we mean those that harvest and make just enough olive oil for the family) today continue the centuries old tradition of harvesting the olives by hand. The manual olive harvest is an intensive undertaking considering that the fall weather is not always the best, but from personal experience, we can attest that the all of the work is paid off once you get to taste the new olive oil you helped make!
Just a few kilometers from the center of Florence and, in general, from all of the larger Tuscan towns, you’ll get glimpses of groups of people engaged in the harvesting of olives in the orchards. Large nets are laid out on the ground underneath the trees, tall ladders are placed against the trees to reach the highest branches and a pair of pincers, plastic rakes or often just hands are used to get to all of the olives. These fall down on the net below and then are gathered into sacks. The harvest generally starts early every morning and continues until it starts to get dark, with a brief break for lunch.
The making of the oil
Once the olives have been harvested, they are taken to the oil-mills (all of the larger estates have their own) where they will be ground, pressed and transformed (finally!) into extra virgin olive oil. If you want the experience of seeing the production of the oil, you can do so during these weeks when many of the oil-mills in Tuscany open their doors to visitors.
At the oil-mill, the producers are given an important number: the yield of their olives, in other words the amount of oil the olives they brought produced. There are many factors that influence the yield, such as the type of pressing, the quality of the olives, the type of climate during the past year and the altitude of the fields where the olives grew as well as many others. Just to give you an idea, a yield of at least around 15% is considered good. That means that you need over 50 kilos of olives to get just 7,5 kilos of oil (not very much, is it?!).
Tasting of the new extra virgin olive oils
During the next few days there will be many fairs and festivals dedicated to the “novello” or new olive oil in Tuscany where you can taste the new olive oil. Just to point one out, if you’re in Florence, you can head out to the XIII Exhibition-Fair of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from November 22-30 which is held in nearby Calenzano.
During this period, a few farms and agricultural estates also organize “tastings” of their own olive oil where you’ll also be able to purchase the “novello” olive oil. This year the olive oil is excellent so don’t miss out on tasting some EVVO and maybe taking some back home!
About Cristina Romeo
Born in Florence at the end of the fabulous '70s, Cristina has always lived in the famous "cradle of the Renaissance". She's in love with her homeland, but also enjoys traveling and discovering new places. Cristina is mum to a lovely little girl, to whom she hopes to pass on all the passion and love of our precious, wonderful Tuscany.