This afternoon the school organized a trip to a local olive oil maker, Frontoio Salvagno, as we are at the height of the season for harvesting and pressing the olives.
First we learned that there is a microclimate around Verona that allows several varieties of olive trees to grow in this region but just about 30 kilometers north of here it is impossible to grow the trees. In general, the trees are very hardy and can suffer through periods of drought, heat, and cold, and can have very long lives.
There are several ways to harvest the olives; by collecting them individually by hand, by clipping off the branches, by shaking the branches, etc. You often see nets under olive trees to catch the olives that fall naturally or are shaken off.
There is also a device that has been developed that grabs the tree trunk and vibrates the tree mechanically but it is looked down upon by some growers as over time it damages the tree. Additionally, the more careful you are with the olives the better, as any bruising causes increased acidity which is undesirable.
For those unaware, all olives are initially green and turn black with age (similar to peppers turner red). The younger, green olives therefore have more of a crunch and they become softer and darker with age.
The frontoio (olive crusher/mill) that we visited today was founded in 1923 and still uses some of the original machinery. There are also some newer machines that operate under the very same conditions as the original machines but simply work faster; i.e. there are no special tricks with the newer equipment that forces more oil production.
Similar to wine making, the olives are put in a hopper and sorted from any twigs, leaves, pits, etc. The olives are then mashed into a paste that looks like a tapenade and spread onto discs which are stacked into a press. The oil rests and any water separates and after some filtering it is bottled.
During the months of mid-October to mid-December the presses run non-stop day and night! The presser also accepts olives from local growers and will either pay them cash or return to the grower some oil in exchange for the olives.
At this facility, it takes about an hour to make first press extra virgin olive oil from the time the olives are dumped into the sorter! If the olives are put through the press any subsequent time(s) the oil cannot be called ‘extra virgin’ and is less pure, not as healthy, and is more acidic.
The smell within the facility was heaven on earth to me! YUM!
We enjoyed tasting several oils, some were a mix of certain olive varieties and some were from a single type of olive. Delicious!
Naturally, there was also a little shop with all sorts of olive / olive oil products. The timing of the harvest couldn’t be better with Christmas right around the corner! There were baskets with four large bottles of oil and six various jars of spreads for €50.
I didn’t buy anything due to the liquid limits at the airport and I would be too nervous to put something as potentially messy as oil in my checked luggage!