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Life in Abruzzo. Events and Traditions.

This blog promotes life style in Abruzzo and Molise regions. Events, festivals, traditions and many others interesting, funny and useful tips about Abruzzo and Molise.

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 Olive oil flows like blood through the veins of most Abruzzan’s. Famously proud of their culture, traditions and of course their food, olive oil is held in the highest of esteem.

We arrived in this little spot of paradise 8 years ago, heady with desire to make a home in this rich and diverse region, attracted by the wild, uncontrived landscape and the draw of the mountain ranges and azure coast alike. As big city dwellers we were searching for a healthier, slower pace of life and wanted our feet firmly stomping on fertile ground. We were overwhelmed by the depth and passion the Abruzzesi share with everything they do. Olive oil was something we definitely wanted to produce for our little family and extended family and the hoards of friends we knew would descend on us throughout the years.

In September we give a counter prune, take out shoots that have no fruit, or branches that will hinder picking, let in an extra bit of light to mature the fruit.

Our first taste of production was by a chance meeting with our now great friends whilst waiting to view a house in Casalanguida, a place we later found out to be considered the heart of olive oil in this area. We met in March just in time for the pruning stage of the plants and we were openly invited to assist, we eagerly agreed and spent a happy few weeks pruning and cleaning 1000 plants. We say plants as that is the translation here, they are then forced into a tree shape for maximum production.
We learnt that pruning is done in a two year cycle, with half of the trees pruned hard to encourage new growth. Those then would produce less fruit than their less harshly pruned neighbours which would be called production plants for that year. We even joined our friend on a day pruning course to learn how to recover abandoned olives, a skill that became essential when we finally had our own grove.

If you ask 10 locals how to prune you will get more that 20 different solutions, so we slowly fell into our preferred style with consideration to the abandoned grove we have. The plants are huge and were surrounded by edging woodland so we slowly freed the plants revealing gnarly gloriously shaped trunks. Some with so many trunks we renamed them Stonehenge! They are grand and powerful and shimmer in their beauty.
We try to keep them low for ease of picking and try to divide them into four champagne glass shape corners, opening out the centre to allow light throughout the whole plant.
We were told that the olive is very forgiving and they grow so vigorously we have never held back on their sculpting, all is a learning curve and what you may think were mistakes will be forgiven by next year’s growth. Every year we improve on the grove. The grove is then left for the summer, just merely keeping the grass down, the plants make gentle dabbled shade for afternoon naps!
In September we give a counter prune, take out shoots that have no fruit, or branches that will hinder picking, let in an extra bit of light to mature the fruit. The most important job then is to clean around the bases where new growth is shooting up, this makes laying the nets under difficult, we make sure that the bases and land is very clear and clean, this prevents ripping nets, one of our catchphrases is ‘no noses’.

The great harvest – branches laden, drooping to the floor, almost like bunches of grapes. When to pick, that is the question, every year brings new influences, is the fruit ready, how has the weather been, too much water, not enough, too much sun, not enough, high winds at flowering, the dreaded fly, all negate the quality and quantity of the harvest. Ours being an experimental approach we prefer early picking towards the end of October, we prefer full flavours over high production. Again some wait for the plants to be an array of fruit both green and black morphing from one to the other, whilst others will wait till all is black, full of oil, easy picking, or is the choice to wait until the perfect phase of the moon, should your approach be biodynamic.

We were fortunate to become the guardians of some 50 ancient plants, they had been left to make their own way for some 20 years or so, whilst slightly unloved, naturally organic, we uncovered roughly 40 back into production, and have planted a further 30 to keep them company which will take a good few years to bear fruit. We have an enchanting grove scattered with old and new plants.
In all the years that we have harvested we have had glorious sunny short wearing weather, we take 2 long days as we are looking to make extra virgin oil which is based on the acidity level of the oil, the major factor in this is the time the olives are left off the plants to pressing which is why we like to pick and press in 48 hours.

Days when three or sometimes four generations of one family work together tirelessly on their harvest with glorious picnics on groves.

So having checked in with Alberto at the mill we will get up before dawn normally armed with eager friends or family, again in an attempt to make the optimum oil we hand pick our plants which we believe is more gentle on the fruit.
With us and a very energetic toddler we will set out to the grove carrying nets, crates and combs, we lay out the nets below the first tree, we set off on the most joyous job of the year, it never seems like a chore, there is something very humbling about setting your feet on mother earth and looking up through the branches to the sky, cricked neck and all, the sun warming the autumn air and the plant gives up its fruit gratefully knowing that it is going to make you one of the world’s most valued products.

Many use mechanical flippers and we have worked at friends groves in this method too, the valley livens with the energetic sounds of branches being brushed and millions of leaves and olives combed, gently falling to the nets. This is just our little valley imagine that multiplied by thousands again in the Chieti valleys and then the Abruzzi valleys and then the whole of Italy, unimaginable. Days when three or sometimes four generations of one family work together tirelessly on their harvest with glorious picnics on groves.

The days are punctuated with little breaks for coffee, cakes, wines and delights to keep the energy levels high. Picking is hard work, tiring on the legs and necks, lots of looking up and bending down. We work one plant at a time, working methodically, some clambering in the branches, waiting for the unanimous call ‘finito’ signalling the gathering of the nets and skilfully pouring of olives into crates. Then this choreographed ballet moves on to the next plant, two nets down, pegged to prevent escapees rolling away from the charms of the nets. And so with the gentle steady rhythm the day continues with the sound track of lively banter of happy pickers, joking, telling stories and ponderings of life. Then as the day draws dark there is a push to get the last plants to give up their bounty and we head off to the mill. We speculate on the amount, quality, all of our hearts and souls are in these round little fruits and the picking is over for another year.

In the strive for the most perfect oil we use a certified organic mill, it uses cold extraction process, which is an upgraded version of cold pressed, which means you are not heating the oil which affects the flavour.
The mill is always packed, the hubbub of collection and the thrill of completion, talks of quantity and quality, of how the spring was too cold or the summer too hot or of the previous year’s fly problems, stories of years ago when the plants were so full the ground was slippery with it, of days of old when harvests waited until after the first snow!

There is a smell and mist, oily haze at the mill that is unique, you are tired, it is late and chilly but you want to wait to watch your oil pressed, you sit wine in hand until your turn. You excitedly watch your crop being loaded into the hopper to be de-leaved and washed and then the great mulch begins followed by the centrifuge, separating and finally you watch those delicious drops pour, heady smell of fresh mountain grass and the joyous luminous golden yellow green colour appears, the harvest of your love and care and attention gently pours into your shiny steel can. Then to the final olive oil tradition, an experience so rare and exceptional, you bring home your oil and savour the first drizzled taste on fresh bread or homemade chittara, truly amazing, the pepper, the bite at the back of your throat, the freshness, indescribable.

Taggati su: Olive grove Olive oil
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