Updated: Nov 8
Over the course of two days, ending this evening as dusk turned to dark, we pulled 1049 kilos of gorgeous Frantoio, Leccino, Leccione and Moraiolo olives off of approximately 230 trees. Unlike all our prior harvests, as the weekend progressed we drove multiple vanloads of crated olives to an artisanal frantoio (called Torre Bianca) that processes fruit in 400 kilo batches and encourages growers to bring olives that have been pulled from their trees no more than 12 hours earlier. As we pulled into Torre Bianca with our final 18 crates of olives just before dinner this evening, all but 100 of the 507 kilos we'd delivered yesterday had already been processed and were ready to be picked up as 70 liters of (extra) virgin olive oil.
This year's crop yielded handsomely: 13.8% EVOO by weight (last year's yield was a bit lower at 13.1%). The somewhat higher yield had us take home 159 liters: just 3 liters shy of last year's production, despite a crop weighing 91 kilos less. As expected, 2023's harvest was negatively impacted by the deep pruning, earlier this year, of many of our outer grove trees, which will not be productive again until 2025 or 2026. We compensated for this deficit by harvesting from 25 or so lower grove trees that, though unkempt, had significant fruit on them (we did something similar a year ago, harvesting from 100 or so of our outer grove trees that had significant quantities of fruit despite years of neglect).
2023's oil is the usual bright emerald green, with a fresh, spicy and grassy taste with neither bitterness nor the fatty-buttery note of so many mass-produced olive oils. Compared with last year's oil (to the degree
memory serves) this pressing is clearer in appearance and cleaner-tasting, probably due to the slower throughput and additional final-stage filtration Torre Bianca insists on. Speaking with Torre Bianca's line manager Lorenzo, I also learned that, unlike most other mills in our area, they do not add water, cold or hot, to the olive paste that issues from the initial cutting-grinding stage of the milling process. This means fewer water-soluble polyphenols transfer to the mill's waste water; instead they remain in the oil where they belong (this should also make the oil more resistant to oxidation as it ages). Torre Bianca does not provide a measure of acidity (preferring to defer chemical analysis to a properly-equipped lab) but I expect this year's oil's acidity to be extremely low since storage before processing is a primary driver of oil acidity and we've never before processed our olives so soon after pulling them from our trees. We may opt for a true acidity measurement and proper lab analysis in the weeks ahead, depending on cost. And although we are not a certified organic producer, none of our olive trees has seen anything but organic fertilizer since 2019.
We had fewer friends join us compared with last year, and our team of paid harvesters was also smaller by one, but everyone worked hard and pushed through hiccups like faulty electrical connections on our two battery-powered harvesting rakes. Even the weather cooperated: two spring-like, sun-kissed days with a steady breeze, beautiful cumulus clouds and crystal clear horizons. Just as we headed into dinner, first decanter of our olio novo in hand, it began to rain again, the breeze now a gusty wind, the window of serenity coincident with the weekend's hard work closing.
Postscript, October 30: Here's a short and sweet video shot by my friend Chuck (he's the guy on the stepladder in the hero image up top) as he "interviews" my son Elio (visible in the same image as a hunched form in the tree) on the mechanics of olive picking:
And below a photo of little Sam (five years old) inspecting and plucking loose leaves from the first half dozen crates of olives pulled from our inner grove before I began loading them into our van on Saturday.