Italy is famous for its olive oil and wine, especially in Tuscany. So when I was asked if I wanted to go harvest some olives, my answer was a resounding, “SI!”
As I talked to my Italian friends about it in the days leading up to that Saturday, and the days following, some of them would smile and ask me why I wanted to go work on the farm. For them it was a chore, whereas I saw it as an experience.
That Saturday on October 29th, was a beautiful day. The air was crisp and the sun was shining. My boyfriend and I drove out to Reggello, an area in Tuscany about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Florence.
It was not a huge farm. It is family owned. They do not sell the oil, but instead give it away to friends and family. It produces about 100 bottles a year.
Within seconds of getting out of the car, we were put to work. I was given gloves and a small yellow plastic rake. The family was already out there harvesting. There were the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They told me to “brush the trees” with the rake. As I did, the olives simply fell to the ground, leaving the leaves in place on the tree.
On the ground, they place long, tightly bound nets that catch the olives as they fall. Once a row of trees is complete, they gather the net to place the olives in buckets. Bigger farms have other systems, such as a machine that shakes trees so hard that the olives fall off. Since this was a small, family owned farm, we did things the simple way.
As I worked my way down the rows of trees, I noticed that there were many types of olives and trees. There were green olives and black olives. Some trees did not have many leaves, while others were so thick it was difficult to see the olives. They explained that in order to have good olive oil, you don’t want to use just one type of olive. Instead, you want to have a mix.
Strangely, I found it to be a bit relaxing to work outside on a beautiful day, focused on a simple task. It is quite the opposite of my teenage days when my parents had to fight tooth and nail to get me to help in the yard. Perhaps it was because I felt this was towards a particular goal: making olive oil. Plus, we were all working together. There was the occasional singing and of course, we chatted while we worked.
Eventually we stopped for a delicious lunch where we had pasta, fish, and meat. There was bread and a bottle of new olive oil as well.
New olive oil is bright green with a sharp taste. It is almost spicy. You may not like it at first if you aren’t used to it, but I love it. I nearly drowned my bread in it.
Then, it was back to work, petting branches.
In order to reach the tops of the trees, you could use a step ladder, or this machine that you can lift into the tops of the trees. There was only one machine, and it was quite cumbersome to use, so my boyfriend’s friend did most of that work. Although I did give it a try.
Finally it reached about 5:30 and we left. Unfortunately we didn’t cover all the trees- there were still 2 rows left- but, it was time to go.
Overall I greatly enjoyed the experience. However, I understand why my Italian friends smiled at me. After a few hours, you’ve had enough. Nevertheless, I would definitely do it again.
How does the olive oil taste? I’ll let you know when I try it! 🙂