Making Olive Oil: A Trip to Abruzzo to Make Olive Oil the Old Fashioned Way
My dad will be celebrating his 77th birthday next week!
He came to Canada at the age of 18. He came to find success in this “land of plenty”…and he did it on his own, with no knowledge of the language and a few bucks in his pocket. I know that this story is not unusual in the Italian community – especially for many Italians in my generation. But, whenever I see his passport picture that he took (he even had to borrow the photographer’s jacket because he didn’t have one for the picture), I am amazed at how he, and others like him, had the courage to make that trip.
I don’t think I would have been that courageous. So, fast forward decades later, he has had a great life in Canada and now, in retirement, has found a renewed love of his birth home. He purchased a very small plot of land in Alanno (which, if you look at the map above, is across from Rome…on the other side of the “boot”). It has some olive trees growing on it and he goes back every year to harvest the olives, make some great oil, and bring it back home for all of us to enjoy. I asked him this year if he would take pictures for me so that I could document it. Let me show you how it’s done…
This is the small plot of land that he purchased a few years back. Like much of the land in Italy, it is land locked so the only way to access it is through another property. It seems crazy – especially for people like us who are used to strict laws – but everyone there seems okay with this.
This is a picture he took of the olives on the trees before they are ready for harvest….beautiful but not tasty yet.
These are my cousins (who I met for the very first time a couple of years ago!), my aunt and a gentleman who is not related to us but shows up to work whenever there is work to be done!
This is the hand machine that they use to harvest the olives. They have to, first, place tarps all along the ground to catch the olives as they fall.
Then they are put through a separator that divides the leaves and branches from the olives themselves.
Then the leaves and branches fall through the grid and the olives are sucked up through the orange pipe to get processed.
The mill he goes to is an old mill that still uses very old technology – crushing olives between stone wheels to extract the oil. Most large manufactures now use metal crushers, which gives the oil more clarity, but there is something romantic about doing it the traditional way, don’t ya think?? He has to stand in line with others from the neighbourhood to wait his turn to process his batch. Sometimes, they even buy more olives from neighbours to make up for a small harvest they may have had!
Then the paste comes down the chute and into this machine…on it’s way to the crushing station.
Here, the paste is placed between these disks and stacked on top of other disks with more paste, and so on…
Then they are compressed to get all of the oil out. Then it goes through more tubes to the filtering station.
Now, it is here that the oil goes through a filtering pass…making sure to get rid of any pits and residue that may have been missed.
And then the final product is released. It is quite thick and as it settles, the oil becomes more clear with some sediment always remaining at the bottom (remember, this is rustic extra virgin olive oil!)
And, of course, we need to save some olives to eat! First, a solution of lye is prepared and the olives sit in this liquid for a while to cure (on the left). Then they are drained and put into a salt water solution. Then they are drained and placed into more salt water. They are not like the olives you get here…they are not as salty (as you can control how much salt goes into the final product) and they have a bite…they are never mushy…always al dente!
So that’s how it’s done…and now you know why olive oil is so expensive. But it’s a labour of love for my dad..he finds peace in the process and is so proud that it comes from his hands to our mouths. That’s love!
A man and his olive trees…that is a recipe for happiness if you ask me!