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Gia-Gina Across the Pond

So I've decided to follow my husband to his native Italy. Follow our adventures as we eat, drink, travel, adapt to and explore this remarkable country. Part food blog, part photo blog but mostly my rants and raves. After our two years in Italy, we relocated across the Atlantic "pond" and are back in the States.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Olive Harvest at La Noce

November is olive season in Tuscany and I'm sure many other parts of Italy as well. I was more than excited to get a chance to be part of a harvest. The last time I was at La Noce (Enzo and Claire's villa) aka The Nut, I picked a large black olive from one of their trees and popped it into my mouth. From watching "Under the Tuscan Sun" I knew raw olives tasted terrible but I was determined to try one. As I bit down on it the olive, I almost immediately spat it out. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them very bitter, only after curing in brine and sometimes lye, can they be eaten.

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Deme and I headed to Florence for the holiday weekend. (The first of November is a holiday in Italy, All Saints Day) Churches are cleaned and loved ones who have passed away are remembered and honored on this day. It also happened to be Enzo's birthday. He ended up treating us with a delicious dinner, roasted piglet, on a bed of polenta.

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Demetrio works alone on one side of the olive grove as Zavier keeps him company and I snap away with my camera.

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Deme and Enzo both work this tree and chat away at the same time. Flying debris and well aimed olives can be hazards. The harvesters come in a variety of sizes and styles. Enzo dons the heavier and longer harvester as he is in charge of the very tops of all the olive trees. After a day of lifting the harvester up and down, my shoulders, arms and wrists were a bit sore.

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Here is a close up of the pneumatic olive harvester. It's an air compressed olive "whacker". You thread the harvester through the branches of the olive trees and pull on the trigger. The harvester then opens and closes like two hands clapping, when it does you gently move it among the branches. The black olives fall readily from the tree while the green olives take a bit more coaxing. I was very surprised as to how tough the olive trees were. A few leaves here and there would fall into the nets along with the olives but the majority of the branches remained intact.

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After the entire row of trees have given up their fruit and are bare, the olives are gathered in the nets.

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The crates are placed strategically among the nets so that the olives can be taken from the nets and poured into the crates. Large branches are sorted out but the olives are pressed "as-is" black, green, leave and all. The green olives make a stronger, spicier oil, the black olives, a sweeter, softer more mild oil.

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After all the olives are harvested the nets have to picked up and moved to the next row of trees. Moving them by hand is not an option as they are extremely heavy. Smaller nets can be used but these long ones, 100 meters long and 6 meters wide (that's 327 feet long and about 20 feet wide) need to be moved with the help of the Jeep.

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Here Deme is up to his eyeballs in olive netting.

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The beautiful olives we picked. Although we did use olive harvesters, most of the work is still done my hand. Up until 2 years ago, Enzo and Claire were still hand picking their olives. Now that I have had the experience of harvesting olives and seeing all the work that goes into the 5L canister that they give us, I truly appreciate the "green gold" that is extra virgin olive oil.

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The products of several days of olive picking. On the day I helped with the harvest, we picked about 16-18 crates. I wished we could have stayed a bit longer than two days. There will be weeks of picking ahead. All over around the hillsides of La Noce, I heard the sounds and saw the sights of olives being harvested. I heard air compressors and tractors moving while people chatted among the trees. I saw burlap sacks filled to the brim with olives, children climbing into olive trees, long ladders propped up against thick branches and nets strewn all around dimpled with olives.

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After the olives are collected and all the tools put away, the last job of the day is setting the nets out for tomorrows harvest.

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The end product of a season of hard work. La Noce's oil is now available to the public here. This is a truly artisan oil, handmade with care, you might even get a batch I helped to pick.

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At 7:40 AM, Blogger american girl in italy said...

That is so interesting, I have never seen a harvest before. Thanks for sharing the pics. It looks like hard work!

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Kittner Family said...

Beautiful pictures and prose! Are they exporting to the States? Looks yummy....

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Cynthia Rae said...

Did you ever think that you would be picking olives in Italy?

The pictures are wonderful (but it looks like a lot of hard work). Hope your arms get a chance to rest!


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a Land Rover not a Jeep. How American of you :) I will teach you the differnce on your next trip back to the States. When will you be visiting Seattle again?

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Gia-Gina said...

I know it is a Land Rover Defender, they call it a Jeep, and when in Tuscany, so as the Tuscans do right? (They are not Tuscans either, they just live there.)

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent you know the model also. You could teach those Italians a few things.


At 7:24 PM, Anonymous LB said...

I love the beautiful photos of the olives. I never knew olives came in such a variety of deep, rich colors.

At 2:26 AM, Blogger Judith in Umbria said...

Thank you for doing this and recording it so well! The place above me is all pros, so I haven't ever done it.
There is nothing like first-press, unfiltered oil. Nothing.

At 6:33 AM, Anonymous island girl said...

Great photos and essay of your olive picking adventure. I especially admire the fact that you tried a raw olive. That's really part of the adventure when trying new things!

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Gia said...

Very cool. I'll be sure to visit at this same time of year so I be a part of a harvest too.


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