Puglia is famous all over the world for its precious extra virgin olive oil. Such is the value of this product that it s often nicknamed “The Green Gold“. In autumn (particularly from mid-October to mid-December), heading through the Apulian countryside you will easily come across farmers or normal landowners who, armed with nets, boxes and tools, gather under the olive trees for the traditional olive harvest in Puglia. But when exactly is it better to pick up the olives and how?
WHEN TO HARVEST THE OLIVES
First of all, it must be pointed out that there are many kinds of olives, with different characteristics. There are table juicy olives that are too plump and watery for oil, and vice versa some types of olives suitable exclusively for the production of extra virgin olive oil. The harvest time is a key factor for the quality of the oil: a too green olive will produce a very low amount of oil, but on the other hand, an overripe olive will give a very acid oil. In general, the best time for the olive harvest in Puglia runs from October to the end of December but there are many factors that affect the choice of the right time such as the type of olive and, above all, the climate conditions. Depending on the kind of summer and autumn (the most important variables are the intensity of sun and rain) the olives ripen earlier or later. If you want to be sure, the best time for harvesting is definitely veraison, when the olive changes in color (from green to purple). It is in this moment in fact that there is the greatest concentration of phenolic substances that give the organoleptic and nutritional qualities to the oil.
HOW TO HARVEST THE OLIVES
The olive harvest by family producers is a moment that gathers families and it is marked by very specific rituals. It is nice to see how they join their forces so that everyone will have enough supplies of delicious oil for the coming year. Unless you have hundreds of olive trees, the techniques that small producers use for harvesting are the following: – Handpicked. This involves placing the nets under the tree and picking the olives by hand or with the help of special rakes. It is a very slow technique (for big olive trees it even takes one day per tree) but surely it is very little aggressive towards the olive that remains intact and doesn’t ferment quickly. – Harvest with the harvester. This instrument shakes the branches and causes the olives to fall. An undoubtedly faster way but could have some effects on the integrity of the olive and consequently on the quality of the oil. – Harvest with the shaker. Rarer in the family harvest, it is executed with an arm connected to a tractor that wraps the trunk and shakes it until it causes the olives to fall. This is a very fast but very aggressive method which, if not performed correctly, could also cause the death of the tree.
After harvesting, the people take the olives within 48 hours to the oil mill where they will be pressed and finally, they can come back home with the much desired (and sweaty) extra virgin olive oil.
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