From Tree to Olive Oil Bottle

Sadie H. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Chatham Hall in Virginia.

Something I never thought I would be able to do is go into my science teacher’s backyard and harvest olives from her trees. However, a few weeks ago, my Agroecology class loaded into cars and headed for her house. She has a huge backyard filled with rows of olive trees, chickens, goats, and dogs running around; I never wanted to leave! After touring the backyard and petting some of the dogs, we began to harvest the olives. The process of olive harvesting is a complicated one, but learning the basics was extremely interesting. First we spread out la rete, or the net, on the ground. This served to collect the olives that we raked from the trees using our rastrelli, or rakes. When we had gotten all the olives that we could with the rake, we shook the trees in order to collect any remaining olives. The process of harvesting was pretty chaotic; there were olives falling everywhere! We learned after my friend Anna tried an olive that the olives would only be ready for eating after being brined or turned into olive oil. For now, they were extremely bitter! After harvesting enough olives to the point that it became difficult to walk without stepping on them, it was time to collect the olives with the net. This is a four person job – the net is very large and must be handled precisely to prevent olives from being wasted. Four of us lifted up a net and carefully dropped the olives into a bucket. Then, we started to take out the excess branches and leaves. Finally, we took a pizza bianca break and headed back to school. Little did we know the process was just getting started!

A few days later, we visited a frantoio, or olive oil mill. The olive oil making process is also extremely complicated, but I learned so much in the short time that we were there! The olives arrive at the mill and are weighed, and then cleaned and further separated from the leaves. Next the olives are ground and dispersed on fiscoli, which are circular disks used specifically for olive oil production. The fiscoli are aligned on a staff and hydraulically pressed, which separates the liquids from the solids. The liquids are further spun to separate the olive oil from the remaining water, and you are left with fresh extra virgin olive oil! This process of making olive oil, from an olive on a tree to olive oil on fresh bruschetta, is something that I never thought I would get to experience. From making wine to olive oil to tiramisu, Agroecology class always teaches me something that I can only learn at SYA!

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