Olive Oil Harvest Project: Prelude

At an attempt to represent and give a little exposure to what many would easily overlook and not give a care in the world, I hope my venture in “a day in a life of a farmer” would bring some enlightenment if not joy. Although the harvesting process for olive oils are to be started and finished in a day’s work, in order to raise the climactic antics of this literary piece, it will be extended beyond just one day (also since I didn’t have the energy to take pictures, write, think, and work all at once). As dull as it can be, I assure you it is one of the most interesting experiences, besides puberty, that I am proud to say I’ve done something worthwhile and enjoyed. And though I have vouched to keep my blog precisely informative and less of self, keeping it unbiased, I’m hoping this “journal” project will not deter those hungry only for the knowledge, rather will in turn be knowledge.

To give a premise to this certain situation, I have just traveled to a very remote, very secluded Italian village, though small, yet typical under Italian culture (population of under 10,000). And there, followed my passion for awesome extra virgin olive oil which we here in the states had vastly misconceived. Literally digging deep within the locals hidden gem, with the language barrier to consider mind you, I realized passion could do wonders. With one highly prized locale, regionally well-known and locally adored olive oils, I had the opportunity to side with the locals and get my hands dirty. Like an investigative reporter, I made every second count.

This will be one of the stories in the life of an olive farmer in Italy…

Day 1

How Do We Measure Quality: Extra Virgin Olive Oils

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Extra virgin olive oil for the purpose of my theme, the ways in defining quality is just as similar as differentiating between choices.

First, the dates. Harvest year (usually falling between Fall and Winter) and expiration dates should be enough to portray the product life, usually up to 2 years (though best if used within a year for consistency in taste and quality). With those two items already in mind when you buy your oil, you could predict how old the oil is (or how long it’s been on the shelf) and how much longer is left.

Another point would be to check which region or country it’s from. This is a whole new topic which may get a bit ugly, but in short the variable geo-climate, technique, and olives could alter the definitive quality right away. Mediterranean climates are favorable due to its abundant sun, cool climate, and the natural hilly geographical location not easily manipulated elsewhere in the world (attempts in the US and claims of similar to near perfection is debatable). Even the discussion of Italia’s best is difficult to analyze. Actually I dare you to ask any Italian where they think has the best olive oil and I guarantee every single one of them will assume their origin as the best. That’s why I wouldn’t want to start an argument siding on one over another.

When it began

Aside


It was at nice, quiet, serene, home on a 14th floor of a 25 floor apartment building, on the outskirts of a big city, not so much suburbia, but not pollutant enough either. Hear yelling across the room and I must have thought I have done something terrible. Next thing I know, my face was flooded in my own tears, stuck on a seat looking down and ahead reaching over with my mini-fork aimed at ¼ of a tomato. Still in tears, with an ugly face forced out of me, I take a bite out of the tomato chewing deliciously making sure I get every single juice out of the bite size fruit. Savoring the sweetness of the juicy tomato, I almost forgot the reality of my salted face pruning. Then I noticed I just experienced two worlds simultaneously; eating and sadness (also known as reality). But it wasn’t hardly until I decided to study abroad in Italy with the goal to stuff myself with good eats. For obvious reasons eating a certain cuisine from it’s origin is the best place to grasp the authenticity of its flavor[Authenticity, Just a Myth?]. However, on occasion we are ever more surprised by an unexpected dish; a dish we thought we knew.

But back to the story in Italy, one of the foods that surprised me the most was the taste of olive oil. I had the opportunity to take an Italian cuisine class during my term and was even more fortunate to have my instructor growing and harvesting her very own olives. It was first through helping out at her cottage (where the olives were located) did I get a chance at tasting the raw form of such a perfectly harvested young extra virgin olive oil.

Timing my visit perfectly, lunch was near and immediate (tip: always bring a big appetite to an invited eat-in). Everything on the table had had some form of olive oil mixed into it. Not only was the taste very structured and distinct, but as conversation grew I was ever more fascinated by how frequent it was used. [In Italy there’s about 12.35kg per capita in annual consumption in comparison to 0.56kg in the US]

Anything you can think of that uses cooking oil or butter, is stunningly interchangeable with olive oil. Oh yes, cakes, brownies, cookies, muffins, ANYTHING. Well maybe not butter itself (maybe?), but you get the idea.

The raw taste of recent harvest olive oils are undying. Like a taste of raw milk just milked seconds from a cow, it’s incomparable to the watered down products available at your local grocery stores. Initially I thought my host had added some sort of spices to the oil to give off the aromatic and subtlety smoothness that went unbelievably well with just a piece of lightly toasted bruschetta which was further glorified with a dash of salt. Oregano, rosemary, dill, paprika, lemon juice, anything? Nothing. Garlic? Nahda, it was just the plain yet intricate taste derived solely by the oil itself. Still in awe I didn’t let the conversation evolve away from olive oil. Locked on and bombarding with questions after curiosity, a “simple” eat in turned out to be another extra credit brownie points ;D As others’ jaws were gnawing on the food set in front of them, I kept mine closed so I could concentrate all my focus on catching every little bits of details and wavelengths. This was the very first time I gained interest in hopes of bringing a simple product back to the states; better known for its utter excess of choice…..