The olive oil harvest begins in October, and we hoped to get a taste of some during our 10 days in Italy.
Just like a car dealer wants to get rid of last year’s models, no one so far seems anxious to promote new olive oil. There is lots of old oil all over Europe, some a couple of years old. But, there are lots of reports in recent years that suggest that the fresher the oil, the greater the health benefit. And, even in America, we are starting to see, for the first time, some types of freshness dates on certain brands of oil.
Our initial efforts to find new oil were rebuffed. One major roadside operation outside of Montepulciano said they won’t offer fresh oil until December; grapes, they said, take precedence and seasonal wine making is underway.
When we were lost upon arrival in Cetona, the first English speaking man we met in the town square was Antonio. He told us he operated an organic farm, did highly regarded farm to table dinners and hired people from all over who work on his farm in exchange for food and lodging. And, he grows organic olives. In fact, he showed us a pocketful and said he had just taken 1,700 pounds worth to a local mill.
Antonio told us about the only olive oil mill in the region, and it was within walking distance of Cetona, and they were in the second day of operation for the current season. He added they worked seven days a week.
Our first try to find the factory failed. And, we ended up on Sunday at another working factory nearby, unsure of what they did. Greg went into the office to find out. Again, no English there, but the very receptive gentleman, especially when he heard Greg had some Italian “sangue” (blood), patiently put up with Greg’s very broken Italian, sign language and a pen and paper. That factory processed corn, and the man in the office showed Greg some of the kernels. He gave Greg directions to two olive oil mills. At first, he thought Greg was British, but upon learning where he came from, he lit up and said “Bellissimo America.” Greg countered “Bellissimo Italia.” And in English, he responded with a so-so hand sign and retorted “Italia…complicated.” As Greg departed, the man called out something that made it clear he liked Obama. Greg looked back and questioned “Trump?: And the man thought for a second and then a light bulb went off. And, he said “Trump, a Berlusconi” (referring to the Italian tycoon and scandal plagued former prime minster). Greg and the corn guy both said “Ciao” as each roared with laughter.
We still couldn’t find the olive oil mill, so we called our landlady Alessandra. She gave us fresh directions, maybe one kilometer from our apartment. We were about a third of the way there, when a car stopped us and Francesco, Alessandra’s partner, insisted he drive us to the place. We laughed that there were no secrets in this small town.
Once at the olive oil mill, we found ourselves on a Sunday with three workers (and two additional outside putting nets under trees to catch more olives) and an operation that looked quite sophisticated.
Francesco took us through the process from bags of olives through the various machines until the one that poured out olive oil in the vivid green color that says “fresh”, as opposed to the yellow most of us are used to.
A huge framed painting of olive oil processing from the Middle Ages seemed out of place with the bright stainless steel tanks and modern building.
Sorry, since we only do hand luggage, we are unable to bring back any oil due to the 3.5 ounce limit on planes. This means we have to consume what we did buy in the next 9 days.