FARMSTAY IN CALENZO, ITALY DURING OLIVE HARVEST

This blog entry is all about the italien spirit- beautifully written by our guest author Maria. Awake your wanderlust while reading this!

I follow the street that goes from a small suburb of Florence into a hilly scenery. It is late and i can only divine the shapes of the high mountains on the horizon. After another turn in the road an avenue with cypresses several metres high opens up. Hello Tuscany – you already feel so good! The endless cypresses string together along the strait driveway and lead me to a gate.

Here i am. In Calenzano, a small suburb in the north of Florence. In the end of october the olivaryharvest starts. And that is what i came for. I want to know: Where does our olive oil come from? How are the olives harvested and what’s the process until it is oil? And naturally: What exactly makes good quality of oil up?
To learn all that i will live on a small country estate for the next two weeks and support the family during the yield.
From the very first moment i feel very comfortable with my italian hostfamily. I await the next two weeks utterly agog. I never traveled Italy like this. I am sure that i’m going to experience a lot more than within the normal holidays i spent here. And that’s what it’s all about; traveing a country to get to know it. Not only briefly and not only the famous tourist spots, but with much more authenticity and depth.

I loom at the valley which all belongs to Podere Montisi, the farm “Montisi”. This morning there still are fog patches above the olive groves, but behind the mountains the sun agures – morning mood at its finest!
Only a few minutes later i am in the thick of it. Tree for tree we walk through the field. First we cover the floor with nets, on which we will collect the olives later.

With the aid of rakes we heckle the olives out of the branches. It’s quite easy in the lower part of the trees, but it’s getting harder the higher the branches grow. For those parts we use an electric hand-gadget with which we can reach the treetop to shake the olives down. Luckily the olive trees are quite small!

The olive groves of Podere Montisi are about thirty years old. Saverio tells me about one untypical winter in 1984, where there was snow and frost in parts of the Tuscany over three days. As a result, about 80 % of all the trees died of exposure. The farmers had to cut down the trees to the trunk and let them grow completely new. I notice that the trees look different: Out of one trunk developed various smaller trunks which gave the olive trees a brand-new shape. Many of them now consist of three or four slim trunks instead of one strong trunk.
Saverio is very pleased with the maturity level of the olives. Their color is slowly changing from green to violet. Indeed it is a fallacy that olives have their highest oil content when they are fully ripe (so when their are almost black). In fact, the oil content is identical when the color is still green or violet. But they get picked at that time because of their hard shell- the process is more gently. That increases the quality of the olive oil.

Saverio and Babara tell me a lot about the procedure. Many olive farmers attach great importance to a sparing harvesting method. The olives get picked by hand- and so does Podere Montisi. This is different to other countries. In Spain or Moroco the trees are plant tightly packed to harvest them faster with huge reapers. They drive though the rows of trees and shake the trunks until the olives fall down by their own. Afterwards, they get gathered up by a special suction device. Overall this treatment is bad for the trees and espacially the quality of the oil suffers from this. But the plantations are aligned to mass-production.
Saverio tells me that olives get imported from Moroco quite often, but then get pressed in Italy so one can sell it as premium italian olive oil.

But you can tell if it’s really from Italyor not when you look at the label. “Bottled in Italy” means that it’s ‘fake’; “Made in Italy” by contrast means, well, that it was completely made there.
But the best sign is the price: To cover the expenses of organic farming one litre of olive iol has to cost at least twelve euros. The olive oil of Podere Montisi costs about 20 euro per litre.

In the evening we count eight boxes full of olives; altogether we made it to almost 200 kilo in one day. Not bad!
The next days we continue working in the olive groves. Harvesting is almost like meditation: I manage to hold down my job for hours without dwelling on thoughts! We pick off from sunrise to sunset because the timeframe for picking is short. In the beginning Barbara told me there once was a couple which traveled all the way from Japan to this farm just to help harvesting- now i can understand. It is a wonderful, not too exhausting work. You can spend the whole day beinhg outside, always surrounded by the balance of the nature, the beauty of the landscape and the mild climate- and still, in the evening, i am aware of what i have done and feel it in my body.

On Sunday we brought the hand-picked olives to the olivemill. A whole 1039 kilo were collected since our start last monday! At 4 PM it’s our turn. Every olive farmer gets his own timeslot, so that everything can be approached detached.
Approximately the olives get seperated from leaves and boughs, then carefully bathed. After the cleansing they come into the mill and get mechanically riced. In the course of this the olives get leached from water, pulp and the shell.
Every farmer can decide by himself at what temperatur their olives shall get pressed. Cold-pressed oil is the best- everyone knows that. But what does cold-pressed exactly mean?! On an average they get pressed at 27 degrees (Celcius). The warmer it is, the more oil one gets, but it also gets less pooled; the quality decreases. Saverio wants to have the olives pressed at 24 degrees. he takes a flyer on a extremly gentle processing with outstanding quality. The olive oil of Podere Montisi is plush.
And then it is finally showing: the green gold of Calenzano. Now i understand what’s behind it: the freshly pressed oil has a deeply-glowing color. From the 1039 kilo we get 145 litres of finest oil that now immediately gets bottled up in our brought tuns.

Back home, Barabara and Saverio insist on having a stab at the fresh oil. Therefor they’ve toasted some slices of bread with garlic. Now we all sit around the big table and pour the green olive oil on our fresh bread. The oil keeps its green color for about one month, then it gets more and more yellow- but it retains green reflexes. It is well-balanced and harmonic, the taste has a slightly bitter touch and even a certain spiceness.
It’s exciting to eat my own produced olive oil. I mean, when do you have the opportunity to take part at the whole process of manufacture and try harvest-fresh oil?

Due to rain we are behind with harvesting. The olives fall and get softer by virtue of maturing. We have to pick them extremely careful to not mash them. Otherwhise germs or atmospheric oxygen would come in and, as a result, the quality of the oil would shrink.

Way too fast the two weeks are over. In real fact today would have been my last day, but i have a hard time to leave in the middle of all this work. A third of the trees are not harvested yet. I decide to stay, at least for one more day.
Barabara has planned a picknick for the last lunch break.

We all sit down under a big olive tree. There are Paninis, fresh baked cake and hot coffee. For one moment we forget all the happenings in this world and just enjoy the sinking sun which throws shadows through the twigs of the olive trees on us.

โ€žWe only let you go because your family awaits you at home.โ€œ, says Saverio as we say farewell.
Babara packed all sorts of things for me: our fresh olive oil, a few olives to ferment, pasta, marmelade, bread, selfmade pesto and even some paninis for my drive home.
I thank her for the great time before i get in the car and drive past the avenue of cypresses to leave Podere Montisi. I am infinitely grateful that i’ve gotten to know Italy from its most authentic and, concurrent, its most beautiful side. On top of this i feel, compared on how i usually come back from holiday, much more recovered and energized!

If you want to hear more about Maria’s travel stories, just visit her own blog: https://wefillvisionswithlife.com/!