A curious response I thought and there would be a lot of people sleeping under olive trees….if they were! But for those who have never been involved in olive picking it could be difficult to guess what the netting was for. Besides not every region leaves the olive nets tied under the trees. It is rare in Tuscany and only in places where it is difficult to reach the trees. These photos are from the Cinque Terre where accessibility is always problematic, terraced land far from road access make it a necessity to leave the nets tied up all year.
Unleashed, and spread out between the trees the area looks like a fairyland so no surprise if a leprechaun or two appeared! In reality though, the nets are spread to catch the olives as they fall snatched by strong winds or drop as they mature. Not a practice that is used in Tuscany as Tuscans prefer to pick their olives slightly before maturation thus producing a superb extra virgin olive oil with an almost spicy tang to it. Being a vegetarian this is perfect to give that slight boost to dishes without overwhelming the flavour.
Liguria and the Cinque Terre of which is part, have their own variety of olive – Taggiasca which has a more delicate flavour and goes perfectly with the seafood dishes and other local specialities. And then every region in Italy is very protective of their olives, each boasting the best!
We have been so lucky this year, as it has been a good season, and the dreadful bug of last year died in the heat of the Summer. So I was happily back picking in Pienza on the Paolucci’s property, even in a T-shirt the weather was so mild!
While I love to hand pick, we were helped by the battery operated rake machine. 10 Quintali (1000kg) in five days was pretty good for 5 pickers, starting after the fog lifted and finishing around 5pm as the sun set. This year with the addition of a good old trusty Ape truck to help us.
Unfortunately we were also a little on the run, hiding under the trees, as helicopters circled in the mornings and late afternoon to catch pickers who were not officially registered workers with the risk of imposing heavy fines (€ 3,000) both on the picker and the employer! We were just a group of old friends picking, like so many others, being paid in olive oil, as the tradition has been for centuries.
Everyone was grumbling about it and pointing the finger at the large companies attempting to get a stranglehold on the olive oil industry. Not that many of us locals were likely to buy the extra virgin olive oil offered on the supermarket shelves as we had picked our own!Not unexpected either was the news that some of those major companies are now under investigation for labelling their product as extra virgin olive oil, when it was merely olive oil – meaning of lesser quality, higher acidity level and probably not from the first press. Not a surprise as for the quantity they sell it would be impossible to produce extra virgin olive oil exclusively from Tuscan or even Italian olives. So I can only suggest you find a good local producer at a farmer’s market and definitely avoid brand names like – Bertoli, Carapelli and Coricelli!
So savour the new oil, lash out and splash it about and believe me…you never get fat on extra virgin olive oil!