September 21, 2012
Picking Our First Olive Harvest
Now that I have added a new title to my roster - 'farmer', I have to rise to the challenge. If you have been following along with my Tuscan blogs you will be aware that Hans and I have bought a 60 acre olive tree farm in the heart of glorious Tuscany. The buildings are under construction and hopefully before I am as ancient as my trees we will open a small boutique hotel there that is geared to my events and retreats.
The land surrounding the building site is covered with over 600 olive trees, some dating back hundreds of years with trunks the size of small cars and other skinny newly planted ones. The entire land and its terraces of trees is organic; no chemical has seen this soil for over twelve years: since the previous owners went organic. This poetic food, our olive oil, really is superb. It is silky and smooth on the first taste with a peppery after sensation. The colour is divine, a greenish yellow that no paint chip could ever replicate.
We all know that olive oil is good for us, the basis of the 'Mediterranean Diet' that we have heard so much about. So I was astounded when I discovered a new book titled Extra Virginity, The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller. This book is essential to all food lovers and anyone who uses olive oil in their cooking or their salads. The author has unearthed shocking details about this symbol of purity that we can buy in either large quantities in our supermarkets or the 'designer' oils found in gourmet shops. Mueller says the industry is corrupt and a great deal of the olive oil we consume falls short of the high standards we trust in an extra virgin olive oil. In fact, he says that some of the highly recognizable brands do not even contain olives. They are fake, coloured and flavoured to taste like olive oil. In Canada you will rarely find an expiry or harvest date on a can or bottle of olive oil. You may feel more confident buying a 'gourmet' brand but with no 'sell by' date how do you know how long that oil has sat on the store shelf? Olive oil will go rancid in a few weeks if left in daylight, and even if stored well, it goes off after a year. Many major brands label their oils "Italian" or "imported from Italy” when in fact they are blends from other countries.
Olive oil is a super-food that has been one of life's necessities for thousands of years. It can be used to nourish us, both as a food and as medicine, (my mom used it to unblock our ears), and a beauty aid (there is nothing better for dry skin or a dab around those laughter lines!)
So what are you looking for when you buy olive oil? A virgin oil means that it has been produced by being picked and pressed with no chemical treatment. A pure olive oil is often a blend of mostly refined oil and a little virgin olive oil added. The same goes for light olive oil. Extra virgin oil is the highest quality grade that has been produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents and under a temperature (less than 30C /85f) that will not degrade the oil. For the oil to qualify as extra virgin it must pass an official chemical test, but sadly in a recent report 69 percent of samples of imported extra virgin olive oil failed to meet the IOC/USDA standards. The very best olive oil is cold-pressed from the first pressing or "first cold pressed extra virgin”, which means the oil was produced from the first pressing of the olive and not heated over a certain temperature. Also organic is best.
So back to our small farm of 60 acres in the heart of Tuscany. The olives that we will harvest at the end of October will be picked by hand literally under the Tuscan sun by friends, family and some locals. They are 100% organic with the highly acclaimed ICEA organic seal. They will be washed and sorted and then taken to our local Frantoio to be grinded without heat. We will then label and pack them and send them home to friends, fans and everyone we know in Canada. We should have a total of about 500 litres. I would LOVE you to try this fresh, handpicked, organic, first cold pressed Extra Virgin olive oil from my family to yours.
Now I have to design a label, work out how to ship the oil and drag those friends over to help me pick! Stay tuned and within the next month I will let you know how to order a litre or two and maybe one day you will come over and help us pick.