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About the olive oil and Tuscany production

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Olive oil has been produced throughout the Mediterranean for several millennia and has potential to grow in other parts of the world as current efforts have shown in Australia, South Africa, California and South America. But, without question, food critics, chefs and connoisseurs tend to agree that some of the most flavorful and highest quality oils come from the region of Tuscany in Italy. Tuscany itself produces numerous regional oils, each with unique characteristics and levels of quality.

Olive oil has become a symbol of Tuscany and is known as "liquid gold" (probably due to its price). There are many different types of olives trees, the most common being frantoio, leccino, moraiolo, and divastro. Each of these trees determines the oil's distinct flavor.

In Tuscany, the olives are hand-picked while still attached to the branches of the tree and before reaching complete ripeness. This process, know as "brucatura," usually lasts from mid-November to mid-December.

Extra-virgin oil results from the first cold-pressing, using the traditional method of mill-stone or disk pressing. It's decanted in little jars several times and then bottled. The remaining pulp is sent to another mill and pressed again for regular oil, then pressed last for lubrication oil. The dried out remains are often used to fertilize olive trees. Tuscan oil has a distinct green color and a fruity flavor with hints of aromatic herbs. It is exquisite drizzled on pasta, vegetables, meats, fish or simply on toasted bread which is called "fettunta" in Tuscany.

 



In general, olive oils in Tuscany can be divided between the naturally piccanti (spicy) oils and dolce (sweet) oils. These differences are the result of several factors: the variety of olive that make up the oil, the altitude, and time of harvest. The quality of the particular oil, whether piccanti or dolce, is the result of the care taken in the production. For the highest quality oils the olives are harvested by hand in late October and early November, taken to mill ideally within 24 hours of the harvest, cold pressed in clean sanitary conditions, and not blended with other grades of oil.
Extra Virgin Oil is defined by the level of acidity. Acid levels between 0.00 and 0.10 % are considered Extra Virgin. The optimum level being between 0.02 and 0.03 % acidity. However, acidity alone will not be a guarantee of quality as the levels of acidity can be manipulated by heat and chemical processes.
Olive oil is time, heat, and light sensitive. The maximum shelf life of a filtered high-grade olive oil is two years. If stored properly, protected from heat and light, the oil will maintain its fruity aroma throughout its shelf life. The piccanti oils will tend to mellow with time but in no way will lose quality. Color, contrary to marketing hype, is not a factor in the quality of the oil, but rather the result of the kind of olives used to produce the oils. The finest oils can range from golden hues to deep green in color.



History
Homer called it "liquid gold." In ancient Greece, athletes ritually rubbed it all over their body. Its mystical glow illuminated history. Drops of it seeped into the bones of dead saints and martyrs through holes in their tombs. Olive oil has been more than mere food to the peoples of the Mediterranean: it has been medicinal, magical, an endless source of fascination and wonder and the fountain of great wealth and power. The olive tree, symbol of abundance, glory and peace, gave its leafy branches to crown the victorious in friendly games and bloody war, and the oil of its fruit has anointed the noblest of heads throughout history. Olive crowns and olive branches, emblems of benediction and purifiation, were ritually offered to deities and powerful figures: some were even found in Tutankhamen's tomb.

Cultivating the Sacred
Olive culture has ancient roots. Fossilized remains of the olive tree's ancestor were found near Livorno, in Italy, dating from twenty million years ago, although actual cultivation probably did not occur in that area until the fifth century B.C. Olives were first cultivated in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, in the region known as the "fertile crescent," and moved westwards over the millennia.

Beginning in 5000 B.C. and until 1400 B.C., olive cultivation spread from Crete to Syria, Palestine, and Israel; commercial networking and application of new knowledge then brought it to Southern Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt. Until 1500 B.C., Greece -- particularly Mycenae -- was the area most heavily cultivated. With the expansion of the Greek colonies, olive culture reached Southern Italy and Northern Africa in the eighth century B.C., then spread into Southern France. Olive trees were planted in the entire Mediterranean basin under Roman rule. According to the historian Pliny, Italy had "excellent olive oil at reasonable prices" by the first century A.C, "the best in the Mediterranean," he maintained.

In the land of the Hebrews, King Solomon and King David placed great importance on the cultivation of olive trees; King David even had guards watching over the olive groves and warehouses, ensuring the safety of the trees and their precious oil.

Olive trees dominated the rocky Greek countryside and became pillars of Hellenic society; they were so sacred that those who cut one down were condemned to death or exile. In ancient Greece and Rome, olive oil was the hottest commodity; advanced ships were built for the sole purpose of transporting it from Greece to trading posts around the Mediterranean.

The belief that olive oil conferred strength and youth was widespread. In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, it was infused with flowers and with grasses to produce both medicine and cosmetics; a list was excavated in Mycenae enumerating the aromatics (fennel, sesame, celery, watercress, mint, sage, rose, and juniper among others) added to olive oil in the preparation of ointments.

Olive trees have an almost titanic resistance, a vital force which renders them nearly immortal. Despite harsh winters and burning summers, despite truncations, they continue to grow, proud and strong reaching towards the sky, bearing fruit that nourishes and heals inspires and amazes. Temperate climactic conditions, characterized by warm dry summers and rainy winters, favor plentiful harvests; stone, drought, silence, and solitude are the ideal habitat for the majestic olive tree. Italy and Spain are now the most prolific producers of olive oil, although Greece is still very active. There are about thirty varieties of olives growing in Italy today, and each yields a particular oil with its own unique characteristics.

Olive Oil Properties
Sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude: these are the five ingredients that, according to Italian folk traditions, create the ideal habitat for the olive tree.

We treasure extra-virgin olive oil for its nutritional and salutary virtues. La Cucina Italiana reports that extra-virgin olive oil is the most digestible of the edible fats: it helps to assimilate vitamins A, D and K; it contains so-called essential acids that cannot be produced by our own bodies; it slows down the aging process; and it helps bile, liver and intestinal functions. It is also valued for its culinary virtues and organoleptic properties as well: flavor (sapore), bouquet (aroma), and color (colore)

Climate, soil, variety of tree (cultivar) and time of harvest account for the different organoleptic properties of different oils. Certain extra-virgin olive oils are blends of varieties of olives; others are made from one cultivar.

The European Community gives the following parameters:

Extra-virgin olive oil with perfect taste is oil of the highest quality; it has a minimum organoleptic rating of 6.5 out of 10, low acidity (1% or less), and is untreated. Olive oil has a minimum organoleptic rating of 5.5, a maximum of 2% acidity and is untreated.

The production of all other olive oils involves treatments.
Extra-virgin olive oil is produced in all regions of Italy, except Piedmont and Val D'Aosta. The leading producers are Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, and Apulia. Tuscany produces such a great assortment of extra virgin oils that many do not resemble each other. In Umbria, it is so widely produced that it would be hard to imagine the landscape without the abundance of olive trees. Apulia is home to an impressive one-third of Italy's olive trees.
The price of extra-virgin olive oil varies greatly. Two factors are influential: where the olives are grown and which harvesting methods are implemented. Certain locations yield more bountiful harvests; consequently their oil is sold for less. Olive trees planted near the sea can produce up to 20 times more fruit than those planted inland, in hilly areas like Tuscany. It is in these land-locked areas that the olive trees' habitat is pushed to the extreme; if the conditions were just a little more severe, the trees would not survive. Extra-virgin oils produced from these trees have higher organoleptic scores.

Although there are countless varieties of olive tree grown throughout Tuscany, the olives themselves are either green or black (the black ones start out green and change colour as they ripen) and are all relatively small and hard.

The trees themselves are evergreen and can live for hundreds of years, growing fantastically twisted and gnarled over the years. They should be pruned every year, fertilised every five years or so and are particularly vulnerable to frost - a great number of trees were lost in the very cold winter of 1985.

As nearly all picking is still done by hand, it is important that the trees do not get too tall; traditionally the most desirable shape of tree was a 'goblet' form with no limbs growing inwards, although modern practice favours a much lower form, with no main trunk and an almost bush-like appearance to the tree.

The traditional olive grove ranges up and down a terraced hillside, often on seemingly unworkably steep slopes, and an 'average' farm would have well over a hundred trees, never planted too close together and usually with all sorts of different varieties within the same grove.
There is only one harvest (the raccolta) per year, and the means of doing this have remained more or less unchanged over the centuries.

Come November and an aerial shot of a Tuscan hillside would reveal a bizarre patchwork of multicoloured shapes - these are the nets that carpet every inch of the olive grove and it is onto these that the olives are dragged, beaten, teased and tossed.



Practice varies. The more organised folk will have laid out their nets well in advance so that not one falling olive is lost. They are often supported by a bizarre scaffolding of bamboo cane to stop the olives rolling off where they shouldn't.

The less organised or less-well-off in terms of netting will lay out their nets around one or two trees, strip them, sack up the olives and move on.

True purists maintain that each olive has to be hand-stripped from the trees - it is a very tactile and sensual pleasure dragging your hand down a stem and feeling a dozen or so olives come free. For about half a day it is.

Then you get scratched, bitten, bored and end up with hands the texture of the rough hessian sacks that you're tipping the olives into.

So, less puritanical folks get hold of a long bamboo cane, stand beneath the tree and spend day upon day beating the young branches so that the olives rain down onto the nets below. Not the most precise of arts, which is why the nets should be spread far and wide as the olives will fly off all over the place.

OIL Tasting Recipes:

Fettunta

8 slices Tuscan bread
2 cloves garlic, peeled
extra-virgin olive oil
salt
Grill the bread over the fire or toast it in the oven until golden brown. Rub it with the garlic, drizzle with abundant olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.

Bruschetta

Makes 6 light first-course servings or 12 hors d'oeuvre servings
4 medium tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and very coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
12 slices crusty French or Italian bread, about 3 inches in diameter
1 garlic clove, split
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar
About 15 basil, Italian parsley, or mint leaves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Toss the tomatoes with the coarse salt and drain for 30 minutes in a colander set over a bowl.
Toast the bread slices on both sides - use the broiler so they don't get stuck in the toaster - and rub the top of each of the slices with the garlic clove. Brush the top of each of the slices with the olive oil.
Gently press down on the drained tomatoes to extract more juices, transfer them to a bowl, and toss with the vinegar and chopped herbs. Season to taste with pepper. Spoon the tomato mixture in small mounds on top of the toasts. Serve 2 bruschettas as a first course or 1 as an hors d'oeuvre or as part of an antipasto platter.

Crostini Mezzaluna
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
2 cups red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cubed eggplant
3/4 cup pitted black olives (gaeta)
extra-virgin olive oil
16 slices Italian bread
Combine the bay leaf, peppercorns, vinegar, garlic and salt with 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Add the eggplant; cook 2 minutes, or until it is tender when pierced with a knife. Drain; pat dry on clean towels. Cool. Chop the eggplant and olives together very finely with a chef's knife or mezzaluna. Stir in enough olive oil to make a soft paste; add salt if needed. Spoon onto the untoasted bread; serve within 15 minutes.

Focaccia with Artichokes and Olives
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
4 peppercorns
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
8 artichoke bottoms, trimmed
1 cup pitted green olives (Sicilian)
extra-virgin olive oil
1 focaccia
Place the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, lemon juice, and salt into a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil Cook, covered, 15 minutes. Add the trimmed artichoke bottoms and cook until they are tender when pierced with a knife (about 5 minutes). Drain and cool. Chop the artichokes and olives together very finely with a chef's knife; stir in enough olive oil to make a soft paste. Adjust the salt if necessary. Slice the focaccia into sixteen 2" squares and top with the artichoke paste. Serve within 15 minutes.

Olive Paste Polenta
1/2 clove garlic, peeled
1 tsp. chopped Italian parsley
1 tbsp. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
5 tbsp. heavy cream
cayenne pepper to taste
8 oz. black olive paste (1 cup)
1/2 cup pitted black olives (gaeta), halved
polenta prepared with 3 cups of corn meal
Place the garlic, parsley, Parmigiano, olive oil, cream, and cayenne pepper in a food processor; process until smooth. Add the olive paste and half of the olives; process until chunky. Prepare polenta and, when cooked, pour into a greased 8" bread pan. Refrigerate until firm. Turn polenta out of bread pan. Cut into 1/4" slices. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Layer the polenta: Spread each slice with olive paste. Stack three slices of polenta, and place all the stacks on a baking sheet. Top each with two halves of a black olive. Bake 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Cannellini Bean Soup
4 cans cannellini beans
4 scallions
1 sage leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs oregano
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 cups vegetable broth (or water)
8 slices stale Tuscan bread
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Drain the beans. Process half of the beans with the scallions, herbs, pepper, and olive oil. Pour into a heavy saucepan and add the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining beans; simmer 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the bread and rub it with the garlic. Place the bread on the bottom of eight soup bowls and pour the soup over the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and serve hot.

Six-Herb Rice
1 bunch basil
8 sprigs rosemary
8 sage leaves
16 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs Italian parsley
1 sprig lemon balm 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups rice
Wash all the herbs (discard stems and stalks); combine with the salt, pepper, and zest of 1 lemon in a food processor. With the motor running, add half of the olive oil; process until smooth. Pass through a fine strainer; stir in the remaining olive oil. Refrigerate 48 hours. Bring to room temperature; whisk in 1/4 cup of warm water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the rice until it is al dente with the remaining lemon zest and salt to taste. Drain; stir in the herb sauce. Serve hot.

Taggiasche Salad
8 Boston lettuce hearts, washed and dried
salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pitted Taggiasche olives, halved
4 oz. Pecorino, cubed
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Cut out the ribs from the lettuce leaves and discard. Arrange the lettuce in eight plates and sprinkle with a little salt (the Pecorino and olives are salty). Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with the pepper, and garnish with the olives, Pecorino, and scallions.

Florentine Schiacciata
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 2 oranges
1 tbsp. orange juice
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
2 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, orange zest, and orange juice. In a separate bowl, combine the olive oil and milk; whisk into the egg mixture. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Fold into the egg mixture until smooth (do not overbeat).

Lightly oil and flour a square or rectangular baking sheet. Shake off excess flour. Pour the batter into the baking sheet and use a rubber spatula to smooth the top. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly golden and soft. Cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve with Vin Santo.

Bruschetta With Roasted Peppers
4 yellow peppers
4 red peppers
salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch basil, minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra
1 loaf day-old Italian cornmeal bread (not cornbread)
1 lb. fresh robiola or mild goat cheese
Roast the peppers on a grill or under the broiler until charred on all sides: turn them as they roast to ensure even cooking. Peel the peppers while they are still hot. Remove the seeds, and cut into strips. Toss the peppers with the salt, garlic, basil and olive oil. Cut the bread into 1/2 inch slices. Top each slice with the peppers, their dressing and some crumbled cheese. Drizzle with more olive oil and serve.

Apulian Bruschetta
1 round loaf ltalian bread (with a hole in the center)
12 small ripe tomatoes, or 30 cherry tomatoes
salt
12 leaves basil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the bread in half horizontally. Bake 20 minutes, or until crispy and golden (watch that it does not burn). Cool. Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally. Season with salt. Toss with the basil and olive oil. Distribute the tomatoes and their dressing over of the bread, and serve.

vacation leisurE IDEAS

Agritourism farmhouse country farm - Art cities towns of charms - Art city guided tours - Wine food taste wine roads home made olive oil - Tuscan food recipes italian culinary cooking - Wellness in tuscany thermal spas relax - Alternative vacation where to learn in tuscany - Schools courses class to learn italian language - Itineraries what to see where to go - Honeymoon romantic ideas for wedding - Golf course club play relax in tuscan hills

Active vacations - Meetings & incentive - Biking tours touring on bike - Trekking in Tuscany - Walking tours in Tuscany

In this page:

History

Properties

Oil Tasting Recipes


Related pages

The olive oil in tuscany

The food in tuscany

Tuscan food recipes italian culinary cooking in tuscany

The wine roads: find the best wineries in tuscany

Find a famili's "trattoria" (restaurants)

 
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