The Tuscan gold. It’s much more than that
Sometimes, when we consume olive oil (and many other things), we tend to not care about how it was made. It is not that we are mean and don't care – we just aren’t interested. We use it, splash it, pour it and eat it. We forget that we should also know how it is made.
It was the end of July when we were leaving OT homes, I did not say, “See you next year!” (we did book the same house for the same time next year) but I said, “See you in the fall!” because I just knew that I would come back to see the olive harvest: the process that makes something that I just go CRAAAZZY about, starting from OT olive oil to many others.
Let me tell you – it is not easy. But it is part of the process, and working for a few hours in the OT olive tree groves together with farm boys and girls, I discovered how special and actually intimate the process of picking the olives is. You are there, all day long, picking side by side, gathering the nets, packing the olives and moving from one tree to another. It is a process where you better be in good company, and I was.
It is interesting to look at the face of someone when you tell them the price of oil. I cannot imagine how my face looked years ago when someone announced the shocking (those days, I thought so) price of the oil. One bottle – more than 10 euros – when you can get twice as much in the supermarket for almost the same, or even lower price. It was the unknown that made me buy oils that I don't buy today. It was the unknown that did not let me appreciate the green gold (they call olive oil that in some parts of the world) to its roots. It was something I perceived lightly – as long as it says olive oil, it's good. Sadly, no.
Talking about olive oil and much more with OT olive oil manager/owner/soul, Rocco Toscani, is not just a chat about oil. It is a concerned man's statement about the fact that, if Italy continues like this, there will be no good oil soon. By not appreciating the price and taste of good oil and by chopping down the trees to plant vineyards or easier-grown crops, one day Italy will face losing their tradition, their heart and soul. With all the great developments in olive oil pressing that lets us consume much better and less-acidic oil, it is incomprehensible why someone, whose blood is part olive oil, would treat it so superficially and poorly.
Yes, there is always the question about price, but there are questions about every little thing. Today, we pay more so that in the future, we can pay less. We pay more because people are in the fields doing the hard job of picking olives – tree by tree, hour by hour, hundreds and hundreds (even more than a thousand a day) of kilos – come rain or come shine. The olive tree can play bad jokes on the plans of the grower by dropping olives from tree before they are actually picked (and then nothing can be done). The pruner cuts and trims the trees to get the best quality oil, and the pressed oil has to be treated well, from start to finish. It is much bigger than just a splash of oil that we like to add to the pan or a salad. No wonder it is called green gold, as it truly is: yellowish or greenish, but gold.
Although the OT farm workers mostly gather olives that go into bottles of OT olive oil, there are some that pick them for oil as it has been done for many hundreds of years. In the region where olive oil is a staple in the everyday diet, not everyone had trees and not everyone who had trees needed that much olive oil, so traditionally, there has always been the opportunity to gather olives and get olive oil in return. Even today, people do this, since oil consumption is a big part of everyday meals and also a great gift for your cousins, friends, and other people.
At OT, they have been making olive oil for years and years, but only in the last few years have they packed it so that everyone can get it (and everyone should try). Smooth, subtle, with Italian character, smelling of green grass and lots of sun, this is oil is a smooth as velvet. It is even scary smooth and disappears faster than it should; there is no greater joy than dipping freshly baked Tuscan bread (the one without salt) or sourdough bread in that oil or to drizzle it over burrata and tomatoes.
Pictures and story: Signe Meirane
Camera: Sony Alpha 7s