Extra Virgin Olive Oil Production
The hills around Florence, and throughout Tuscany and the rest of Italy are covered with miles and miles of olive trees. Still, Italy does not produce enough olives for domestic consumption and is at the same time a net olive oil exporter. They make up the difference by importing large volumes of olives and olive oil from Spain, Turkey, and Tunisia, which can be bottled in Italy, and labeled “Italian Olive Oil.” Much of the Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil you find in the supermarket can be pretty bland.
Using plastic rakes, the pickers pull each olive onto nets lined up under the trees. Between November 1 and the first week of December, there is a small army of pickers slowly working their way from tree to tree, across the landscape. It is a vast undertaking, and it is one of the keys to the quality of the oil. The olives are picked when they are perfectly ripe and are taken straight to the mill. Like any fresh food product, the olives are at their best when picked ripe, and not left to fall from the tree, or left to sit after they are picked. The oil is made up of a mix of green and black olives.
There is a mix of trees in Tuscany, including Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, and Moraiolo. You can see two trees side-by-side, where one is fully black and the other fully green. We had a wonderful spicy bottle recently, where the grower proudly said it was because of his Moraiolo trees.