Blistering sunshine though Umbrian summer, temperatures at one point reaching 40˚c and little rain meant that the olives soaked up the heat and matured early. Usually here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House we begin to harvest these little black jewels mid-November, but this year we started earlier.
With nets placed on the ground to catch the falling olives, up high into the trees we climbed, sometimes with ladders, sometimes by scrambling up the trunk and into the laden boughs and gently stroked the ripe fruit from the branches.
Once all the branches have been picked, and the olives are in the nets they are put into crates and because one requires a certain quantity to take to the mill, the olives are spread on a cool floor to await the next stage of the process.
This year as always I picked with neighbours, them coming over to help with the Bellaugello olives and me going over to help with theirs. Whilst I bring my olives back to Bellaugello in crates each containing 30kgs with my trusty Ape my neighbours use a rather more traditional method, large saddlebags made of sacking and the services of one of their trusty and willing donkeys. This year we picked in glorious sunshine, a bit of shadow was much appreciated!
Finally the big day, off to the frantoio or mill. We take our olives to a mill in our local town of Gubbio, the last remaining mill here where the olives are pressed by stone. After being put into a large green crate the olives are tipped into the washing machine which blows away any remaining bits of twig or leaves, rinses the olives and prepares them for lifting into the grind mill.
And so the olives are carried up and away through the wash to the grind stones
They are huge hunks of granite that revolve in a massive bowl turning the black olives into a pink paste
which then goes through a further grinder like an artesian screw making a smooth paste which is then spread on the mats which will be pressed;
it is the oldest most traditional system, but has come up to date with mechanical and computer aid to spin the mats and transfer them to the press, from which whilst waiting for the stack to be complete, the oil magically begins to drip out glistening in the afternoon sun;
When the pole is full to a height of almost two metres it is wheeled over to the press.
The liquid – it is water, oil and bits and bobs starts to trickle out of the mats into the tank below. The trick of the guys at the frantoio is to know exactly just how much paste to spread on each mat so it does not all squirt out of the sides of the press. At first no pressure is used, but after about one hour the hydraulics are turned on and pressure rises, all cold, no heat…
and the last drips of oil glide slowly and sensuously down to the tray below
and so to the centrifuge, this mill uses only one to extract the oil from the water and other impurities, and soon it flows… luscious, thick, viscous, intense, fragrant, pungent, spicy, divine, wonderful…
and thus we are done, all that remained was to weigh the tins
and head home, loaf of unsalted Umbrian bread in hand, light the fire, uncork a bottle of rough red wine (actually it was a smooth luscious Critèra from the cantina of Schola Sarmenti that I adore deep down in Puglia) and eat bruschetta with our own 2015 cold pressed extra virgin organic olive oil….. delicious! there is nothing quite like it! and still we are picking……