Many things in Italian cuisine are based on tradition, and this is particularly the case with olive oil production given its history dating back to 5000 BC. To this day, mechanization is not usually present in the early stages of olive oil production. This is also due to the fact that olives are easily damaged which would result in a lower quality of oil. This goes hand in hand with the harvesting process as olives are generally handpicked.
Harvesting takes place at different times depending on the area. In the more Northern areas such as Tuscany olive harvesting must be carried out earlier due to the frosts. Indeed, in this region olive harvesting begins as early as September. The different times in which olives are harvested results in the different tastes of each region’s olive oil. The younger olives of Tuscany result in a peppery taste. Since each olive contains about 20% oil it takes an average of around 200 olives to produce one liter of olive oil.
After the harvest, olives are taken to frantoio, the mill. The frantoio is a very important part of the production process of Italian olive all; It maintains the traditional roots of olive all production. Italian olive farmers hold great pride in their olives and olive oil. The main concerns during the production process is the yield of oil obtained for each olive, but as important is the level of acidity. To be considered extra virgin olive oil, the acidity level must be lower than 8% and must be yielded from the first pressing of the olives.
This production stage, unlike the harvesting process, is mechanical. Olives are firstly washed to remove undesired leaves and stems. The olives then go into grinding. The entire olive is crushed, including the skin and the pit, by a big wheel made of granite. The grinding process creates a sort of paste, the olive is now ready for the next stage, the mixing stage, considered the most important step since it determines the end result.
For this reason the mixing process is carried out very slowly in order ensure the correct consistency.
The next phase is the pressing phase which liquefies the paste. The liquid is separated into water and oil by a centrifuge which removes the water from the oil, and this is how we get unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil. The unfiltered oil is stored in cool steel tanks prior to bottling.
The olive tree and the oil it produces was of great importance within the Catholic Church. In fact, religious communities in Italy were key to helping olive oil to regain its status and encouraged the continued cultivation of olives in the country.