Olives Olives OlivesMay 19, 2009 at 20:51 | Posted in Italian Cooking, Itri, Italy | 2 Comments
Tags: cooking, famiglia, family, food, Italy, Itri, recipes
The olives of Itri are some of the finest grown in the world. Most know them as the olives of Gaeta due to an arrangement made years ago as the port of Gaeta was more recognized than the smaller town of Itri. But the olives themselves are grown up and down all the beautifully terraced mountain groves of Itri. There they benefit from both the mountain air and the sea breezes that blow inland across the mountains. Standing at the top of the Castello di Itri one can look out in all directions and see row upon row of neatly terraced olive groves spreading up and down all of the mountains and hills.
During the month of April one can see and smell the fires as the olive growers trim back the trees and ground scrubs to encourage more fruit growth. This also helps protect the trees during the dangerous fire seasons when lightning strikes can start the wild fires so difficult to fight in the mountains.
Most experienced farmers will trim the trees back to the two or three main branches and then smaller ones off of those. Keeping those branches trimmed means more of the energy of the tree goes to establish roots and then olive growth instead of small branches and many leaves. The trees are kept small enough that they can use a small ladder to access all of the olives to be harvested.
By April most of the olives have been harvested except for those being left to fully blacken on the trees. These are considered the sweetest ones because they so ripen. The farmers take great care at this stage to not bruise the olives by rough handling but because the olives are ripening quickly now, they hang nets beneath the trees overlapping each other so as to not lose any to the ground to spoil or be walked on.
Slow growing by nature, these trees have been tended by the same family for generation upon generation. With care, they live well over one hundred years. They carefully store the olives for the family to eat as well as take some to refineries to be made into deep pungent oil. It is important for un-bruised fruit to be refined in order to monitor the acid content in order to have the sweetest oils. The cold pressed or first pressed is the deepest green known as extra virgin. Then the olives are pressed again and even again a third time to extract the most oils possible. Each pressing results in a lighter colored oil. Nothing is left to waste – after oil is pressed, the waste of the pits is often mashed to become heating fuel as well as mulch for back around the trees. Now that refineries use so much water in the pressing process, they are dealing with the issues of the waste water being toxic. This was not a problem before the larger refineries came into being as the farmers seldom used quantities of water in their smaller local refineries. Now waste water is collected to be disposed of safely and many of the commercial refineries are developing methods of cleaning this water to not foul the water supplies or ground.
Each stage of the harvest yields a different olive. Nothing beats the flavors of these olives. The strong green new olives, the cracked olives with their more pungent flavor, the tender black olives, and the sweetness of the sundried black olives!