Making good olive oil is an art as much as quality wine or cheese making takes expertise and time. The olive farmers we met in Bolsena take great pride in their oil. A lot of them stay with their olives during the whole pressing process to make sure their crop doesn’t get mixed up with the neighbour’s batch.
The BIG moment of the harvest is at the press when the first oil trickles out of the faucet. Grass green is the color of the rich liquid streaming into a shiny metal basin. The sink is surrounded by men with lined, sun-dried faces watching eagerly. Knowing now first hand how many little green and black buttons you have to collect to get one tablespoon of oil, what comes out of that faucet seems like liquid gold also to us guest-pickers.
Usually a bunch of olive farmers gather around the oil faucet at the mill to judge color, texture and taste of the final product. The first one to try is the owner. Next neighbours and bystanders get to swiftly swipe a plastic cup under the steady green stream. Opinions are eagerly expected and given. Does the oil taste fruity, oily, heavy, light or spicy with a little tingling after-sensation? The little group of experts compares flavors and ponders how the weather, the timing of the harvest or the mix of olive types might have contributed to this year’s quality. Our hosts Carla and Stefan even compare the flavor and yield of two different cold press olive mills in the area.
It amazed us how good fresh olive oil tastes straight from a cup – and how the flavor varies. Sol became quite an expert after he took every opportunity to accompany Stefan to the mill. He also won a blindfolded oil sampling test we did over lunch one day, comparing two batches pressed at different mills.
But before all that we had to get the olives off the trees. That’s why Bill, Sol, Leonie and I spent 10 days at Lago Bolsena, a stunning crater lake in Latium (Lazio), Italy. Carla and Stefan live in a Tuscan country home overlooking 150 olive trees and the lake. Below they have a beautiful spacious apartment, which they rent out to vacationers, family and friends like us. We met those two creative and passionate people in BC when they visited their daughter, our friend Kirsten. Some of you know and cherish their olive oil, of which Bill sold a few liters the past few falls in Victoria.
I don’t know how Carla and Stefan could harvest all their trees by themselves last year. I wish I had as much energy as they have. It is a ton of work! The first two evenings I dropped into my bed exhausted with every muscle aching from the unusual physical labor. Bill was in charge of getting groceries and preparing the meals because he had a bad infection around the metal plate that repaired his collarbone after he hit it working on the sailboat in August. No olive harvest for you, said the orthopedic surgeon he was now seeing in Bolsena.
Our roles where changed and I enjoyed not having to plan a single meal nor preparing or shopping for it. Bill and Carla were the masters of the kitchen and we enjoyed delicious local fare fresh every day. In the field Carla, Stefan and I laid out nets under trees, raked fruit off branch after branch, cut off limbs and hauled full boxes away. The kids enjoyed being part of the harvest family and learning to participate in all the different steps involved. They particularly enjoyed searching the olive piles for twigs and leaves, climbing in the trees and burning the clippings in a huge fire.
But I don’t have to explain any more, because Sol filmed the whole process and produced a documentary. Watch it on YouTube.