Tuscany’s Liquid Gold
At about this time of year, every year, when the days are getting shorter and colder, Tuscany is busy extracting its highly prized “liquid gold”: the extra virgin olive oil.
The Italian olive oil harvests are really something to see, and even to take part in. Thousands of pickers go out into the olive groves where, after spreading large nets around the tree trunks, they pick the precious olives off the branches.
Donata Origo, the owner of the Chiarentana estate within La Foce – located in the beautiful Orcia valley south of Siena – has her own olive groves, and her own cultivating and harvesting methods too. Over the years, I have become somewhat familiar with these methods, as I have had a few opportunities to be at Chiarentana at the right time. And needless to say, I have never left the estate without taking home a large supply of olive oil!
Donata’s project is particularly interesting. She has replanted a large number of olive trees and invested in a highly technological, state of the art olive oil mill as well as an oil cellar. Unlike many other producers, she picks and presses the different olive varieties separately. Some of the oils are kept pure, in order to have an oil for every palate. She has been so successful that this year her olive oil was ranked as one of the world’s 50 best olive oils in the very prestigious Feinschmecker Guide. You can get more details here: www.chiarentanaolio.com/olio
You might also like to know that Tuscany traditionally has four varieties of olives. Moraiolo, the most representative, creates an oil with an intense, slightly bitter taste and a pungent aftertaste. Frantoiano, another popular variety, has an intense fruity fragrance followed by a deep peppery sensation. Leccino has a vivid fruity flavour with just a hint of bitterness. And last but not least, Pendolino has the exquisite smell of almonds.
You would like to see how olives are picked and how extra virgin olive oils are produced? Well, Trust&Travel guests at Chiarentana (6 apartments on the La Foce estate) can take part in the harvesting, get a tour of the production process and, icing on the cake, taste the freshly pressed oils on hot toast! You will find out, among other things, that the olives need to be picked just as they start turning from green to purple; that they are pressed entirely, pip and all, as soon as possible after being picked; and that the grinding process should be done at a controlled speed in order to preserve the original flavour of the fruit.
The picking of olives is a very pleasant thing to do. There are people of all ages in the groves. Donata always gathers family members, grandchildren included, alongside her regular workers. It is a great opportunity to have fun, chatter, exchange new and old stories, and of course enjoy the surrounding environment. If you happen to be there at the right time, don’t miss it!