09 Oct

Olive harvesting in Umbria, Italy, drips with tradition

Making olive oil at harvest takes time, muscle and a bit of guidance. Visiting mills in the region, known as 'Italy's green heart,' provides a lesson in its history and a chance to sample the season's offerings.
Reporting from Civitella, Italy— The anonymous stone building on the outskirts of Civitella, my Umbrian hilltop village, was a mystery to me. Every time I drove past, it was shut up and seemingly deserted. But on one moonless night in November, lights blazed through the dirt-encrusted windows, and tractors, trailers, little Fiat 500s and the three-wheeled trucks called Apé were strewn across the road outside.
I stopped my car, pushed open the building's iron door and stepped into a room filled with the rush of warm air and the clanking of heavy machinery. I'd found the Co-operativo, an olive oil mill that comes to life one month each year like an Italian version of Brigadoon.
Three massive presses squeezed fiber mats coated with olive paste. Greenish-gold cascades of extra-virgin oil dripped in slow motion down their length. Across the room, a trio of equally outsized grinding stones revolved in a steel dish, like giant pestles in a mortar, mashing the freshly picked olives into paste.
Antonio, the courteous, soft-spoken manager, greeted me, then steered me past farmers in their bulky winter coats, each man keeping watch over his own olives, to where a wood fire burned in a blackened hearth. He cut a slice of the rock-hard local bread, toasted it, rubbed it with garlic, then drizzled it with oil he dipped out of the centrifuge.
As I bit into my bruschetta and the pungent, peppery oil caught in my throat, I felt the beat of "Italy's green heart," as Umbria is called.
"It is much easier and cheaper for us to buy oil in the supermarket," Antonio said. "But the olives are part of our life. We grow them because our parents grew them. The olives are the center of our being, deep in our soul."
Harvest time, which takes place in my corner of Umbria at the end of October or early November, is the climax of the year. The olive mills operate 16 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and the medieval patchwork of fields, empty through the long hot summer, suddenly fills with extended families of pickers, from kids to grandparents with their nets, ladders, rakes, lunch baskets, bottles of wine, even tables and chairs.
Most tourists have come and gone by then, and that's a pity. They're missing a way to connect with the authentic life of Italy as well as a gastronomic journey touring and tasting at the mills. As for the Peruginos and the Piero della Francescas, they're still here in November, hanging in the same museums and churches; there just aren't as many heads between you and the art.
My own olive harvest begins soon after dawn with the arrival of my Italian caretaker, Pasquale, and his tiny wife, Rita. Many of my 60 trees are more than 100 years old, primary-school age for an olive. (The oldest tree in Umbria, near Trevi, is said to be 1,700 years old and still producing.) Like most local farmers, I grow three types of olives: leccino, for quantity; frantoio, for sweetness; and maraiolo, for intense green taste.

Continue Reading »

08 Oct

California tightens olive oil labeling rules


California's burgeoning olive oil producers are counting on a newly enacted state labeling law to persuade more consumers that American brands are more virginal than their imported rivals.

The measure, signed into law on Friday by Governor Jerry Brown, tightens the definitions of various calibers of olive oil, such as "virgin" and "extra virgin," to conform with standards recently adopted by the Department of Agriculture.
Supporters of the bill say overseas labeling enforcement has slipped to the point where the overwhelming majority of imported "extra virgin" olive oil on supermarket shelves is actually a lower-grade product.
The aim of the new law is to help persuade California shoppers to reject imported olive oil touted as "extra virgin" in favor of domestic brands that are more honestly labeled, and more than likely made from olives grown in-state.
"We spend a lot of money for imported extra-virgin olive oil that in many cases isn't extra virgin, when we produce actual extra-virgin olive oil ourselves," said state Senator Lois Wolk, a Democrat who sponsored the labeling measure.
In 2010 studies, University of California at Davis and Australian researchers found that of the five best-selling imported "extra virgin" olive oils 73 percent of bottles tested failed to meet International Olive Council standards for "extra virgin."
07 Oct

Gold in Australian olive trees


A CURIOSITY over old olive trees growing on historic farms has turned into gold for a northeast couple. Over the past 20 years Eberhard Kunze and Maureen Titcumb have propagated tens of thousands of olive saplings to save old genetic stock.

This year, oil from their priola trees, a variety they discovered and named, won gold at the 12th Australian Golden Olive Awards.
The awards, announced last month in Rutherglen, drew more than 70 entries from around the nation.
Three of the four gold medal winning oils were processed at the couple's grove, EV Olives at Markwood, east of Wangaratta.
Eberhard and Maureen's interest in heritage olives stems from research work done in the 1990s by South Australian Dr Michael Burr.
"Michael was looking for old trees in the area with good production and disease resistance," Ms Titcumb said.
07 Oct

Jordan Ministry to help farmers market Olive Oil

With the imminent advent of the olive harvest season, the agriculture ministry on Wednesday said it will employ marketing procedures to help farmers sell their olive oil.

Ministry of Agriculture Secretary General Radi Tarawneh explained yesterday that even if there is a surplus of olives and olive oil this year, the ministry will help farmers market their produce "as it does every year".
He added that the civil and military consumer corporations and the Economic Social Association of Retired Servicemen and Veterans will buy extra amounts of olive oil that farmers cannot market.
Tarawneh also noted that the Royal Court always buys locally produced olive oil to be included in Hashemite Charity Caravan food parcels that are distributed to underprivileged families and "will do so again this year".
"If these measures do not help market the expected surplus of olives and olive oil, the ministry will grant export permits to all traders interested in selling Jordanian olive oil abroad," he said.

Continue Reading »

07 Oct

Olive oil tasting event at Kendall College of Culinary Arts


Kendall College of the Culinary Arts in Chicago hosted yesterday a unique event showcasing one of the most essential products in the kitchen: olive oil. Proceeds to benefit Common Threads.


The event hosted by world-renowned olive oil expert, Alfonso J. Fernandez features a presentation, olive oil tasting, tapas and wine all set in a fun and interactive learning environment. Although some may know the basics of olive oil, it can be surprising to learn the varieties of the product, many ways to use them, and how they can bring unique flavors to other dishes.
There are 262 varieties of olive cultivated in Spain, although 24 are used regularly in the production of oils. The most important varieties produced include Picual, Hojiblanca, Arbequina and Cornicabra. Each variety produces an oil distinctive in color, flavor and application.
Source [Click Here] for full story