As November comes to a close, so does the Olive Harvest in Italy.. So what better time than this to talk about the absolutely amazing experience we had this month harvesting olives and making our own olive oil in Umbria?
Liquid Gold. The one thing that I make sure I bring back to the states every year. After all, as I tell our guests, we can get good wine, good leather, good ceramics, etc. back in the states. We may pay more for it, but it is there. But no matter how much I try, I can never find decent olive oil. At least nothing that compares to what I get from the olive mill we get our oil from.
Every week during our vacations, we take our guests one day to a tiny little olive mill and winery at the border between Latium and Umbria, in Orvieto country. When we arrive, we take them into the mill to show them how the olive oil is produced. This is one of Italy’s few remaining “Traditional” Cold Press mills… The one with the giant stone wheels. The one known to produce the absolute best of the best.
Week after week, we describe what they would see if the mill were in operation, and it takes some imagination. After all, this places only goes into operation for a few weeks a year beginning in November when the olives are ready. But one of our groups this year chose to brave the risk of cold and rain in order to not only see it in operation, but to be a part of the olive oil making experience. While we were not sure how it would all turn out, it ended up being what was possibly the most exciting day we have ever had on our vacations. We Came. We Harvested. We Made Olive Oil.
We started out our morning as we do each and every morning in Soriano. We all met at the local coffee bar & pastry shop for breakfast. We dad our “Espresso”, “Cappuccino”, and our “Cornetti:, then boarded our minibus, headed for the village of Castiglione in Teverina, just south of Orvieto, Umbria. We stopped at the mill and met with Serena, one of the owners and a close friend. We loaded crates, tarp, clippers & gloves, then followed her to a remote olive grove in southern Umbria.
One by one, we got off the minibus and made our way to the olive grove. For a couple hours, our group split into smaller groups, each tackling one tree at a time. We laughed and had a wonderful time picking olives & taking pictures on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day with the “Dying City” of Civita di Bagnoregio as our backdrop.
When all of us had decided we had picked enough olives, we walked back to the minibus, carrying our crates full of newly harvested olives. We loaded them into the back, climbed aboard, and headed back to the mill.
Once back at the mill, two by two, we carried the crates inside and set them on a large floor scale to see what we came up with. All said and done, we had harvested 110.5kg (~225 pounds) of olives. We then picked them up and dumped them into a large container inside the mill which then loaded them into the grinder where two massive millstones began to turn and crush them.
For about a half hour, the millstones turned nonstop, grinding our olives into a thick paste, while we headed into the old wine cellar, just a few feet away. While visiting the cellar, we tasted a few of the white wines the winery here produces while having some Bruschetta that was made with the “NEW” olive oil that had just been pressed the day before.. We also had the opportunity to do a taste comparison between the new oil and last year’s oil, so that we could have a better understanding of how much better the brand new olive oil was…. AND IT WAS!
After our brief tasting, we headed back to the mill once again. Our olives were all crushed and ready for the next step of the process. While we only expected o be harvesting olives today, our friends at the mill had a very unexpected surprise for us. As it turns out, we were also to operate the mill today!
One by one, guests that wanted to wore an apron and stood in front of a machine next to the grindstones. The olive paste was loaded into a sort of large food processor. Each guest would place a fiber disk on top of a turntable, then press a button that would start the table turning as olive paste was spread onto the disk. Once it was spread around the entire disk, they would press another button that would cause a mechanical arm to pick up the disk, lift it and place it onto a large cylinder. The process would repeat over and over, stacking the disks on top of one another as our guests operated the machinery one by one.
When the stack of disks layered with olive paste was tall enough, we wheeled it all over to the olive press and it it into operation. The oil began to slowly drip along the sides of the press, and we headed into another room for lunch.
While we were operating the press, tasting wine and oil, and visiting the old wine cellar; Serena’s mom was upstairs preparing lunch for us. We were served a wonderful assortment of local cold cuts, local cheese, Tuscan beans, fresh garden salad, and much more. During our lunch, Serena opened up a selection of their red wines, one by one, so that by the end we had samples all seven of their amazing wines. Finally for dessert she brought down cups of fresh ricotta cheese that had been made that day by her neighbor, then smothered in Acacia honey produced by a close friend. As always, it was truly and amazing lunch.
Our bellies full and our sobriety in question, we walked back over to the mill once again. While we were eating an drinking, our stack of disks had been pressing away, extracting all the juice from the olive paste. The olives have water content as well as the oil, so they must be separated. The juice drips from the disks, and gets pumped into a container up by the ceiling that gravity feeds it into a centrifuge. Out one side of the centrifuge, the water is drained. Out the other side, a golden-green liquid gently flows… Liquid Gold! Olive Oil.. just pressed from olive harvested from their trees less than three hours prior.
One by one, each of us took a one liter can and kneeled by the spicket. We each filled our own can of olive oil that we had just made from harvest to pressing.
When it was all over, it was getting dark. We hopped back on the minibus to go home to Soriano, each of us clasping onto our can as though it were a priceless treasure. Each of us had smiles from ear to to ear, having just had one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. To say the day was pure magic is an absolute understatement. It was all we talked about for the rest of the week.
Every week on our tours, we visit this olive mill. But only one week each year do we have this experience. Only once do we get to actually see it in action, be a part of the process, and make it ourselves. It is a source of incredible pride for us, because as a company that is all about cooking & culinary vacations in Italy, we know what a unique experience this is. You will find a few others that include harvesting for a day. You will find some that let you see a mill in action. But that we know of, we are the only company that actually has its guests making the olive oil at every stage… especially in one of Italy’s few remaining traditional cold press olive mills, and what a difference it makes!