After a long hot summer (and an equally long and inexcusable break from blogging) when there was little to do in the grove other than watch the olives grow, it’s finally time to get back to work. For olive farmers, autumn means one thing: harvest time.
Following the last-minute scramble of last year’s harvest, which for bureaucratic reasons was delayed until late November, this year we were determined to be more organised. Equipment has been cleaned and checked. We’re now fully paid up members of the local olioficio sociale, the cooperative frantoio (oil press) frequented by local farmers, and have pressing appointments booked from now until Christmas. Our Protected Geographic Indication (IGP Toscano, del Montalbano) certification has finally arrived, meaning we will receive a higher price for our oil. The harvest this year is relatively small (olives have a tendency to biennial cropping) so we’ve decided to sell our oil directly to the press (who produce their own blend) this year and start with our own brand next year.
Most importantly, invaiatura – the change in the colour of the fruit from unripe green to shades of lilac, red and purple – has begun, signalling that it’s time for us to start harvesting. Timing is crucial: press too early, and the oil yield will be too low. Press too late and the fruity, pungent flavour for which Tuscan oil is famed will be less concentrated. In keeping with local tradition we pick our olives just as invaiatura is starting, resulting in a low yield but high-quality oil which has a more concentrated flavour, higher levels of anti-oxidants and a longer shelf-life than oil made from fully ripe olives.