Clearly the woman didn’t know who she was talking to. You know when you meet someone, and they say, oh, yes, please stop by anytime. The woman in question is an olive oil vendor and we met her at the Citta di Castello truffle fair. Elaine and I were chatting her up as we tasted her outstanding olio novella. That’s the new oil that’s just been pressed, and we are in the heart of olive oil season, and even better news, it’s a very good year for olives. She gave us general directions to the mill and I’m sure she thought she’d never see us again.
Then our friend Bruce mentioned that he was pressing some olives at the same mill, so it was irresistible, we had to go to the mill yesterday. We found it with no problem, drove up, reminded the nice lady who we were and then started asking a million questions and taking pictures.
It was a sight to see. Stacks of plastic crates filled with multi colored olives, lots of men standing around chatting, and us. It’s actually a pretty simple affair: the fresh picked olives with some leaves and stems attached are dumped into a big metal hopper, a tube sucks them onto a slotted conveyor belt which as it vibrates causes the leaves to fall through the slots and get sucked into a huge bag. The cleaned olives then go into a macerator, a machine that roughly chops the fruit, and then it’s sucked into a cylindrical presser. Now the olives head into a centrifuge where the oil separates from the ‘salsa’. After a small bit of filtering, the rough oil goes into another centrifuge and oil comes out of one spout, any remaining liquid comes out of another spout. Oil floats, remember? And that’s it. Pretty magical if you ask me. The olive oil aroma was intoxicating.
Other little tidbits: the olive season usually continues until about Christmas time; the green olives are also ripe, they’re just another variety; 100 kilos of olives yields 15 kilos of oil; all the left over olive bits get picked up by another company and reprocessed into less than virgin olive oil. An olive tree doesn’t die, when it gets tired and used up it sends out new roots and makes a new tree, we have trees around here that are estimated to be at least 800 years old.
Good olive oil is truly a thing of beauty. An instructor of mine used to say that olive oil is the closest thing to mother’s milk. I’m not sure that I’d go that far, but he might be right.