We all have images in our minds that tell us it’s Autumn – walking amongst trees flaming in vibrant colours, jumping in huge piles of crispy leaves, watching smoke rising lazily from a chimney or tucking into bowls of steaming hot soup. For our family, the distinct reminder that it is fall happens early in October, when we gather in the kitchen. We are pensive, even subdued. We’re aware of what’s coming, rather like an exam result when you know you have not studied. We gather around the table and place one white (it must be white) plate in front of us. It is the beginning of this year’s harvest, the first cassettes (crates) of olives have been driven to the olive mill to be pressed, and we are about to taste the very first bottle of our new olive oil.
Every year for the last decade, we have gone through the same ritual. Our 2000 olive trees are tough, but fickle.
Sometimes the taste takes your breath away but the yield is small, some years we have an abundance of olives, but the flavour is mild and several times the trees had been infected by a bug which caused the oil to be gelatinous and tasteless, and we painfully had to abandon the harvest.
The reason it is a white plate is so that we can see the true colour of the oil. Emotions run high – our hearts beat fast. With baited breath we unscrew the cap and pour the glistening nectar onto the plate. We grin with joy – the oil is a rich emerald green. We hand around small chunks of plain, unsalted Tuscan bread (perfect for the task) and we dip, soaking up the oil. The bread transforms itself; we pop the jewels into our mouths – we smile again. OMG, it is off the scale in flavour. We can taste the grass that grows around the olive trees, a hint of wild asparagus, even the oregano that carpets the fields. Then we cough. It takes about three seconds until the peppery tones tickle the back of our throats. We nod to eachother, wipe the plate clean and pour again.
Well, yesterday, we tasted our first oil and this year is, without doubt, our premier harvest. Covid may have made us all miserable in 2020, but nature has enjoyed the reprieve and gifted us with the best of the best. The picking and pressing will continue for a few more weeks and then we will be ready to ship this elixir of love to you – harvested by my family and enjoyed by yours. The very best Organic, Cold Pressed, Extra Virgin Tuscan Olive straight off our trees.
If you would like to order a case of our oil, please click on this link – once we have sold our last bottle, that is it, until next year. We ship to you within 30 days by Express Courier directly to your door. Your order usually arrives by the end of November to mid-December. This way you get to taste the most delicious olive oil, fresh from the olive groves and have bottles to gift over the holidays.
In the meantime, here are some tips for what to look for when buying the best quality, nutritious oil.
Olive oil is at the core of the benefits of the nutritious Mediterranean diet, but please be careful when chosing an oil as not all olive oil is created equal. It is an extremely slippery business, pun intended. Scandal and fraud may not be the words that come to mind when you toss your salad with extra virgin olive oil or drizzle some over grilled veggies. As more and more scientists and nutritionists promote the merits of this super food, the more the demand grows, causing unscrupulous food companies to take advantage. So how are they doing this? Well, consumers are looking for pure olive oil for the benefits of its antioxidants, and the word “pure” is one of the most misused terms in the food industry.
Food product labelling can be confusing, often on purpose, so let me explain what to look for when buying olive oil. If the label states “Extra Virgin”, then this is supposed to mean that the fruit was pressed, and the resulting oil was filled into the glass bottle or tin (avoid plastic) without further processing – this is the first pressing of the olives. The best oils are also labelled “Cold Pressed”, meaning that the olives were not heated above 27 degrees Celsius during the pressing process, retaining all their flavour, aroma, and nutritional values while keeping the acidity low. Heating the olives will result in higher yields but will also diminish the quality drastically. Any label that does not state “Extra Virgin” denotes a lower quality oil extracted by chemical processes, as it becomes 2nd and 3rd and even 4thgeneration, as well as blends of various other less nutritious oils. Such oils have little to no healthy properties. But it gets worse, I am afraid. Look at the bottles of olive oil on a supermarket shelf and you will see many descriptions such as “classic”, “light” or “pure” and sometimes photos of your favorite celebrity chef on the cover. Please don’t be fooled. Many of these oils have seen very few olives and are often produced from flavoured and coloured low-grade oils to imitate extra virgin olive oil.
Olives are grown all over the world; Italy (I am biased and I think that Tuscan oil is the best), Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia and California. Flavours change with the terroir, varietal and climate, so you need to experiment a bit to find your favourite oil. As long as you are buying “Organic Extra Virgin” with a harvest date within the last 18 months, you are buying a quality product. This can be hard to find in a general supermarket, so where on earth do you go to find the best olive oils? Well, if you visit a local Italian, Greek, Portuguese etc. neighbourhood, you can usually find the real deal. The other way of purchasing the very best olive oil is directly from the grower. You may have visited a farm on holiday or heard of a consortium (word of mouth is the best,) this is where the farm sells directly to the consumer. This is what we do here at Villa Reniella with our Certified Organic, Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed Olive Oil. I promise you that once you have the tasted real fresh organic extra virgin oil, you cannot go back to the industrialized supermarket brands.
So yes, the olive oil harvest is a labour of love, but we are proud of our ten years of harvesting olives from these magnificent trees, some of which are over 700 hundred years old.
Cheers and stay safe everyone
Debbie and the Tribe at The Tuscan Getaways