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.

Ladders at the ready, la raccolta #Bellaugello

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.

from tree to crate olives @Bellaugello

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!

off to the farmhouse with the olives

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.

Crated olives ready for the process to beginand so the milling process beginsThere are always lots of farmers at the mill

And so the olives are carried up and away through the wash to the grind stones

washed and ready for the grind stones #olives

They are huge hunks of granite that revolve in a massive bowl turning the black olives into a pink paste

millstone #frantoiorossi millstone #Bellaugello milling olives #frantoiogubbio

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;

press mats waitingpressing olivesapplying the olive pastepasting of the mat complete

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;

press mats glistening in the afternoon sun #Gubbio #Bellaugello

When the pole is full to a height of almost two metres it is wheeled over to the press.

the stack of olive mats ready for the pressand into the press the olives go #Bellaugello

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…

the pressure's on #frantoio #Bellaugello

and the last drips of oil glide slowly and sensuously down to the tray below

the last precious drops #oliveoil

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…

2015 #BEllaugello virgin cold presed Umbrian olive oilthick, viscous #Bellaugello #OliveOil2015

and thus we are done, all that remained was to weigh the tins

Tins on the weighscale at the frantoio

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……

Paint drying in a rainstorm is infinitely quicker than trying to navigate with TecnoAdsl internet connection.  The past week the internet has been playing up something terrible, it cuts out constantly and when it does connect it is hopelessly slow, and the 3G cell connection with TIM is also totally unreliable and utterly useless.  Maybe the aliens have landed nearby, or it’s government interference, whatever it is I am seriously fed up.

I feel like a prisoner in the middle of a gigantic desert trying to get a message out to sea in a bottle…

It has been surreal, November 2015 and I have had to cut the lawns at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, so deliciously warm are the days the grass is still growing, and I am dressed at best only in a pair of shorts.  Mornings I awake to golden sunshine and azure skies, glorious autumnal tints on the woodland on the far side of the Chiascio valley, and roses in the garden in new bloom and bud, it is unseasonally warm.  Not that anyone is complaining, for we are all out up trees harvesting olives.

After last year’s non-harvest when the trees were blighted by a damp summer and the olive fly resulting in no oil it is so good to be back at the olive trees.  We pick by hand.  Coming from the north of Europe where the olive tree is seen only in florist’s displays I never thought to be spending my November days climbing high into branches and combing olives through my fingers.  I pick with friends, we pick in the same way olives have for centuries and maybe millennia been picked, using just our hands.  It is a beautiful satisfying work, the brrrrrrrrrr….. of a branch loaded full with olives being stripped and the fruit falling into the net below.  As ever here, silence and peace only punctuated by birdsong and our chatter as we gossip and put the damaged world to rights, I have a sense that this is the way it has always been, life can still be good and honest.

Picking olives in the November sunshine, Vladichiascio, Gubbio #BellaugelloHigh in the olive trees in blazing November sunshine,@Bellaugello

We have a good harvest this year, though not all the trees are full, some are even devoid of olives, but others laden, there are plenty of olives and our first appointment at the ‘frantoio’ or olive mill in Gubbio is booked for tomorrow.

By tradition when we return from the frantoio with our new oil we light the fire, toast the local Umbrian unsalted white bread and douse it liberally with the new piquant intensely green oil, bruschetta never tastes better, away you overly-priced overly-marketed designer oils, bruschetta never tastes better than on this evening, made from your own oil picked by hand and cold pressed.  With this year’s heatwave I am asking myself if it will be different, the fire not lit, no it cannot be some traditions just have to be upheld, we will toast merrily.

Out and about the usual stillness disturbed by huge flocks of migrating starlings… is that what they are?  Anyway it was early evening and they were flying acrobatically, swirling overhead huge formations back and forth, massive waves lapping a foreign shore as they looked for a place to roost for the night, which turned out to be huge umbrella pines from where they chattered and chattered as if recounting their stories of their day’s flight and travels to their companions.  The sounds were massive and sight with the ruddy skies was amazing (I dare say better than the photos!)

come fly with me #BellaugelloFly away to #BellaugelloStarlings fly overhead #Bellaugello

Now of course the difficult one, the missing link to the main topic of my post, search my little grey cells as I can I cannot find a ‘decent’ link to the next subject, but maybe ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ also the lack of them are the thoughts in the back of my mind that link this blog post, but the link is just not here so please place your own thinking caps on…

Usually my rants are focussed on banalities of Italian life and the utter stupidity of the bureaucratic systems here, but this time I am going for larger fish, more on that as the post progresses (to get that you have to think laterally)  namely the World Health Organisation.  Their suggestion that red meat and processed meat is cancerous, no that is not correct they state that eating meat increases the risk of colon cancer and therefore red and processed meat should be avoided or only used sparingly a few grammes at a time.

So, this leads me to three thoughts:  Firstly are the industrial chicken farmers, those cruel heartless people who subject the birds to a short tortured life in artificial light, ramming artificial food laced with large doses of chemicals into the terrorised birds kept prisoner in huge sheds seeing a decline in their sales?  Maybe they are, and just maybe they have lobbied the W.H.O. or used a lobby firm to blast the competition out of the water…

Or it maybe it is that like having  forced on us poor citizens these ridiculous ‘energy saving ecological’ lightbulbs on the precept we as ordinary folk must be ecological and think of the planet, despite the obvious and never declared fact that there is quite evidently not enough electricity to go round for all, which sadly the powers who enforce will not admit.  Maybe the huge multinational ‘food’ and I use that word loosely producers are about to launch a new ‘synthesised protein substitute wonder food to save the world’ and they require to condemn red meat and sausages.

however my third and favourite thought is that I for one am not going to stop putting new meat in my mouth, it is a process that gives me huge pleasure, as I am sure it does the meat 😉