From our little olive grove on a steep hillside in Umbria. you can see the Sibillini, a section of the Apennine mountain range, that runs north from the eastern-most section of Umbria into the rugged Le Marche region. I love to walk in the olive grove when the evening sun paints the hillsides golden – all the way to the distant Sibillini.
This year, for the first time, our olivetto, olive grove, offered even more than a fabulous view. This year it produced olives, which we just harvested. Well, actually not we, it was me. Luigi, away on a working trip, was unable to participate.
Lucky Luigi. I discovered that olive harvesting is not for the faint of heart. (It made our recent grape harvest seem like a walk in the park.) After 2 days of raking olives from the trees into a rete, netting, (and pruning branches) my muscles were screaming. The netting, at 8 meters by 8 meters, is very heavy, so just setting up to rake the olives is a chore.
Anna Maria, our next-door neighbor, fed me pizza roll ups through the fence and cheered me on to the finish, and this morning I successfully transported four, almost full, bins of olives to the Il Vecchio Frantoio, The Old Olive Press.
The Old Olive Press, called this because it is, indeed, the old olive press, is owned and operated by Riccardo Prudenzi. The men in family Prudenzi, whose names all begin with “r” – Riccardo, Roberto, Renaldo – have been operating the old olive press for 140 years. Riccardo shares his name with his great-grandfather.
Some of the workers at Il Vecchio Franoio are old too, having been there since before the olive press was modernized. Years ago the olives were crushed by an enormous grinding stone, operated by oxen that walked in a continuous circle. (In fact, one man has only one arm. The other arm was taken off in an accident with the pre-mechanized press!)
Today’s franoio is clean, modern and efficient, and Riccardo heads the production of a high quality, organic Umbrian olive oil.
Our four bins of olives weighed in at 66 kilos, which (although fabulous for us!) is not enough to be pressed as a separate batch of oil. Riccardo kindly added our olives to his own which he will press tomorrow morning.
So, my shopping list for tomorrow includes one-liter cans from the hardware store (probably 8, maybe 10, into which freshly pressed olive oil can be poured) and a good crusty, Umbrian bread.
And tomorrow night? I’ll be eating bruschetta with just-pressed olive oil – fireside, of course.