Category Archives: Olive Oil

Ode to the Olive

Tuscany Olive Harvest
Olives Tuscany Harvest 2011

Looking outside the window today, Tuscany appears volatile and dark. The weather is moody, swinging between heavy rain showers, and dry periods with warm blustering winds. The sky is dark, and the energy in the air is particular. The Olive trees on days almost seem to glow silver. They light up in contrast to the black sky, and create an interesting and gothic landscape.

The olive originated in Asia Minor.From Syria and Iran, it was brought to the Mediterranean basin. This was 6000 years ago. In Jerusalem there are trees that may date back 2000 years located in an ancient garden. Nobody can tell for sure the age of these trees as the Olive tree does not develop rings in the trunk, but experts estimate that they have been there between 1000 and 2000 years.

The olive tree cannot usually produce fruit for the first 8 years, but after this they can survive for centuries. Olives have been mentioned in Egyptian texts and Roman texts as well as the Bible, and the Koran.

The oldest olive tree in Italy is located in Sardinia ‘Cormacs Tree’ is believed to be over 3000 years old, and its gnarled roots, and wild shape make it a true living work of art. There is an olive tree in China estimated to be 5000 years old, the oldest living speciman in the world, and the oldest living fruit tree.

Drive anywhere in Tuscany at the moment,and you will find olive groves are abuzz with movement. The olive oil harvest is often a time when friends and family members are called upon to lend a hand, with the offer of a bottle of oil or two at the end of the job. The harvest can be good fun (whilst hard work) due to the communal spirit. The highlight at the end of any harvest, whether you have thirty trees or 300, is watching the hours of hard work (in the form of small green and black olives) turn into a stream of fluorescent green oil before your eyes at the Frantoio (olive press).

Back in my University days, Pablo Neruda was one of my favorite writers, the poem that I have attached below is a beautiful literary celebration of Italy’s favorite tree , and a suitable finish to this ‘Ode to the Olive’ post.


‘Oda al Aceita (Ode to the Olive)’

by Pablo Neruda

Near the murmuring
In the grain fields, of the waves
Of wind in the oat-stalks
The olive tree
With its silver-covered mass
Severe in its lines
In its twisted
Heart in the earth:
The graceful
By the hands
Which made
The dove
And the oceanic
Of nature
And there
The dry
Olive Groves
The blue sky with cicadas
And the hard earth
The prodigy
The perfect
Of the olives
With their constellations, the foliage
Then later,
The bowls,
The miracle,
The olive oil.
I love
The homelands of olive oil
The olive groves
Of Chacabuco, in Chile
In the morning
Feathers of platinum
Forests of them
Against the wrinkled
Mountain ranges.
In Anacapri, up above,
Over the light of the Italian sea
Is the despair of olive trees
And on the map of Europe
A black basketful of olives
Dusted off by orange blossoms
As if by a sea breeze
Olive oil,
The internal supreme
Condition for the cooking pot
Pedestal for game birds
Heavenly key to mayonnaise
Smooth and tasty
Over the lettuce
And supernatural in the hell
Of the king mackerels like archbishops
Our chorus
Powerful smoothness
You sing:
You are the Spanish
There are syllables of olive oil
There are words
Useful and rich-smelling
Like your fragrant material
It’s not only wine that sings
Olive oil sings too
It lives in us with its ripe light
And among the good things of the earth
I set apart
Olive oil,
Your ever-flowing peace, your green essence
Your heaped-up treasure which descends
In streams from the olive tree.

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Tuscany Olive Tree
Horse in Olive grove

Olive Oil Tuscany


The olive tree varieties that still exist come from the cultivation made 6000 years ago in the siro-palestinean area, where the oldest testimonies were found.
In fact, the cultivation of olive trees, as well as the vines , corresponds with the evolution of human beings in the whole Mediterranean area.
Italy, especially, remains the biggest producer of high quality olive oil and Tuscany plays an important role in this.
The olive harvest is done between November and March depending on the different olive tree varieties and the different regions. Tuscany is one of the earliest Italian regions to harvest.
Olives are picked by hand before they are fully ripe. Whilst this obtains less quantity, it ensures a higher quality, verifiable in the particular peppery taste and the green colour obtained.
As soon as the olives have been picked and collected in small boxes, they must be taken very quickly to the olive mill where the process of oil-making will start straight away.
This process consists of three main stages and it is interesting to notice that the first two steps have remained almost the same since olive oil was first produced, with the only change being in the kind of machinery employed .
After the olives are separated from their leaves and washed, firstly they are crushed and secondly the resulting dough must be thoroughly amalgamated.
The third important step, which in recent times has had various evolutions, consists of separating the water from the olive oil. In the past this was done with a presser machine, nowadays more sophisticated systems allow it to be done by calculating the physical laws (the different specific weight of oil and water).
At this point the new olive oil is ready to be bottled, although it is usually filtered to avoid possible residues in the bottle.
The high quality of the olives is the most important factor to obtain a high quality oil.
For an olive oil to be defined as extra virgin, it must have an acidity level of not more than 1 gr. per 100 gr. Chemical analysis testifies this before the oil can be bottled.
Unlike wine, the younger the oil, the better it is and it is advised not to buy it after it is 18 months old, and even after the first year it will loose a bit of its better characteristics, as well as its colour, which will turn a deeper yellow (this is particularly visible in the extra virgin Tuscan oils).
Modern scientific researches have confirmed the healthy virtues of olive oil in the alimentation, especially comparing the lower risks of cardiopathic illness in the Mediterranean countries, in comparison to places where butter and other kind of fat produces are used instead of oil.