Hans has been busy first making wine (another post, coming soon) and now for the last 6 weeks, he’s been busy picking our olives and making extra virgin olive oil.
The other day I made a little video about the process of making extra virgin olive oil:
Making good quality organic extra virgin olive oil requires special care. Note I said “good quality” Not all olive oils are equal!
It starts with pruning the olive trees correctly, one yearly major pruning and a haircut one or two times a year. Hans has taken courses on olive tree pruning, and he’s become pretty expert!
Then there is the battle against the olive fruit fly (bactrocera oleae) which can ruin the fruit and the subsequent oil. This year was tough. The nasty fly visited pretty much every farm in central Italy, making the battle even harder. Some orchards were devastated this year. I make traps from discarded plastic water bottles that I add ammonia and smelly slimy fish trimmings that I get from the fishmonger. I bet you can imagine just how disgusting that chore is!
Healthy organic olive trees need space, air, light, sunlight and a poor soil with a mostly dry hot climate that includes about a month of cold temperatures. They are grown on hills because the roots are shallow and the trees do not like getting their feet wet! Given these conditions, olive trees can live for thousands of years, which is why the olive has become a symbol for so many things from peace to fertility.
The olives are hand harvested before they are fully ripe, this way all the components in the oil are at their best. When olives are left to mature completely on the tree, they begin to ferment on the tree. This fermentation is great for olives destined for eating, but terrible for making a quality oil as it destroys much of the health benefits and great taste.
Once picked, they are rushed to the mill where they are crushed and then the pulp is separated from the stones and skins. The resulting pulp is separated into water and oil. It is important that the olives are crushed right away (within a day, best is the same day) because they start to ferment immediately once picked.
The oil is then transferred to clean stainless steel containers and either used right away or stored in a cool dark placed for a month or two, allowing for the sediment to fall. Then the top oil is siphoned off and bottled for sale. Many growers prefer to bottle right away, and in that case, the oil is filtered. If the sediment is left for a long time, or is allowed to sit at room temperatures it will start to ferment and ruin the oil. I’ve seen fancy bottles of unfiltered olive oil for sale, as though it’s more “natural” or somehow better. It’s marketing nonsense. The sediment is just fine only for a bit, while the temperature is cool. it’s what we use at home until we’re ready to bottle.
Did you know that olive oil has a shelf life of approximately 18 months from the day it is made if it’s stored properly. So please do consume your oil and store it in dark glass bottles in a cool place. Pity for it to go rancid, which it will.