We were in the midst of finalizing our Casali (farmhouse) purchase this past December and I recall walking the five acre olive grove which surrounds the Villa. The Vendors taking the lead as we trudged around the property, discussing the amazing vistas, pondering possibilities for future projects: a new seating area for painting or reading, refurbishing an ancient water well enclosure, all while confirming the property lines.
I was in a state of childlike awe regarding the beauty of the Tuscan landscape and absolutely ecstatic to own a portion of an olive grove.
Whose hands had planted these trees? how much olive oil have they produced and who has consumed it?
The whimsical olive trees planted in a grid pattern stood firmly their ground, limbs outreach as though wanting to touch, with their roots tightly holding onto Mother Earth. The terraced land leading toward the Ambra Valley, Mount Amiata and Siena in the distance.
I will confess the theatrical nature of the olive tree has always appealed to me. The silver green leaves of the olive trees which turn colour in a blink of an eye, all based on the dynamics of the sky and wind that makes them dance to and fro.
It must be frustrating for an artist to try to capture their authentic beauty. I suspect a few paint brushes have been thrown into the bushes with eyes cast upward. I do recall an American visitor painting the landscape this past Spring, I admire people who follow their talents, their dreams (despite possible frustrations).
Our “first” olive oil harvest will occur this fall and we can hardly wait to experience this traditional process. The weather (as reported) has been very dry, so dry, in fact, the olive harvest will need to be earlier this year. Weeks of hot weather with no substantive rain since May has southern Europeans referring to this weather period as “Lucifer”.
Il ciondolo della terra da parte del diavolo (The searing of the land by the devil)?
The climate changes were evident in late May as we began to see various creatures, not previously seen on the property: the slow, lumbering brown toads as large as a tea-cup saucer and the bright green frogs with their sucker pads clinging to the neighbour’s side door window pane. They were attracted by the coolness of the irrigated yards.
The pond at the base of the driveway near the top of Cyprus Alley had completely dried, leaving the tall grasses which surround it aching for a drink. Mother Nature had enlisted her foot soldiers to send us her messages.
All Casalisti (property owners) have been asked to reduce water usage, especially regarding the lawn irrigation. As well, to reduce our road speed (30 km/HR) along the winding white roads to avoid casting dust on the villas, stone walls and most importantly on the residents and their pets enjoying a casual walk.
Everyone is content to fully cooperate as we understood as part of “buying into” this Tuscan Estate there was a significant commitment to be “caretakers”of this ancient land and all its inhabitants of old and new lineage.
I believe there remains a “shared parenting” in life between humans and Mother Earth. It requires a world to care for and raise our precious children; the lands, the olive trees, the cyprus trees, the animals etc.
Traditionally the olive harvest occurs in November with the white truffles, chestnuts and wine harvest seasons in full swing. With the prolonged dryness it is anticipated the olives will be picked early, sometime in October.
I have witnessed the gentleman and ladies from the surrounding villages come with large rectangular wooden weaved baskets and casting large netting at the base of the trees; to catch the falling fruit. They coach and pick the delicate olives from their perches while continuing to use the old wooden ladders of yesteryear.
This fall we will walk the property with our trusted Contradini (man of the land) to determine what types of Tuscan olive trees we have, the prized Frantoio? what of the Moraiolo, Leccino, and Pendolino? On our travels, I have seen the factories around Castelnuovo Berardenga which produces the olive oils called a Frantoio (olive mill).
In preparation for the olive harvest, we (especially my husband) have been reading a great deal about the olive oil industry. Learning the good and bad aspects, actions taken internationally and locally to protect the industry and the consumer.
I will confess I had not previously thought of olive oil as something to savour by itself, simply to be drizzled on a salad or using a piece of dry bread to soak up the liquid gold.“The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven”. Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Ronaldson, 1813
The first time I tasted the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) from the Villa’s grove, I realised what I had previously consumed, was not truly “authentic’ or perhaps should just have been used for cooking or in some cases for olio di lampada (lamp oil), there is a distinct difference!
I can attest to the sheer gastronomic pleasure of consuming a good glass of Tentuta di Arceno’s, Chianti Classico Reserva 2012, a piece of the local dry pane (bread) dipped in the Villa’s authentic EVOO. The beautiful green coloured olive oil swirls and shows so beautifully on a white plate, the fresh flavoured oil with its peppery bite. Doni della terra (Gifts of the land)!
Olive oil has been used for centuries in Ancient Rome as a product for barter or currency. So lucrative was the olive oil trade there is a hill outside of Rome called Monte Testaccio which is technically an ancient garbage pile of potsherds. Piled high are approximately 25 million broken Amphorae, some say the soil still crunches as you walk upon the mound. These Amphorae were used to carry and store olive oils. (Mueller, 2012, p. 42).
The Roman gladiators were partially responsible for this “faux” hill as they used olive oil to lather their bodies. The oils enhanced their muscular frames ensuring they glistened in the sun and were difficult to hold onto during athletic events. Similar to our modern-day body builders, lessons from the past?
The Romans would also bathe in the olive oil and later use the strigil, a tool to scrape the used and remaining “oils” from their skin. It was deposited in small decorative vials and sold to wealthy women as perfume. (Mueller, 2012, p. 28). A great gift idea for someone who has everything, isterio (hysterical)! Similar to modern-day tennis fans who vie for their favourite players sweat drenched wrist bands thrown into the crowd.
We will need to wait and see if Lucifer will find another haunt and leave the lands of Tuscany. With regard to the impacts of Lucifer on the olive oil harvest, only Mother Nature knows for certain the outcome.
“Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity”. – Leonardo da Vinci.
I trust Mother Nature will take care of Lucifer.
Brainy Quote (www.brainyquote.com)
Mueller, T. (2012). Extra virginity. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company pages 2 -42).
Olive Oil Source (www.oliveoilsource.com)