Olive Pressing in Umbria (La Raccolta Part 2)

Luigi and Alberto in the oliveto

Dirty clothes, muddy boots and cold hands. How could harvesting olives possibly be pleasurable? Yet it surely is. As an avid reader and explorer of all things Etruscan, I’ve learned that the olive harvest was a celebratory event nearly 3,000 years ago, and the celebration continues here in Italy … autumn after autumn after autumn.

Of course, the first part of the olive oil story is the harvest itself. The second part is the olive pressing … la frangitura.

We take our olives to our dear friend, Riccardo Prudenzi, who operates Il Vecchio Frantio, an olive press that has been in his family for several generations. Remarkably, Riccardo’s grandfather pressed olives using an enormous stone grinding wheel, moved by donkeys that walked in a circle – much the same method used for thousands of years before him.

Due to modern technology, the machinery for pressing olives has changed drastically in recent years, but the order of things (the basic process) remains the same, and is really best explained with pictures …

1. Bins of olives are brought to the olive press.
2. The foliage is separated from the olives and they are washed in fresh water.
3. The olives enter the grinder where (pits and all) they are ground into paste.
4. After the grinding, the thick paste of olives is sent to an enormous mixer. (This part of the process is slow and monitored carefully to ensure a uniform oil.) After mixing, the paste is fed into the press where it is separated into oil, water and pulp.
5. The pulp is transported by conveyor belt outside the frantoio.
6. A final centrifuge processing separates remaining water from the oil, and the first cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil pours forth from a metal tube. (Che bello!)
7. Containers are filled with precious golden-green, fragrant oil.
8. Every last nibble of bruschetta – drizzled liberally with freshly pressed, peppery oil – is savored.

To know more about Riccardo Prudenzi and Il Vecchio Frantoio, check out his website: IlVecchioFrantoio.com. Or, better yet, come visit us here, Off the Beaten Strada, and we’ll introduce you personally to Riccardo … absolutely one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

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Pamela Haack is an author, specialized travel consultant and founder of Off the Beaten Strada where she creates and hosts custom retreats in central Italy, for travelers who wish to be immersed in the history, culture and traditions of the region.

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