In the olive groves of Tuscany

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In Tuscany everything seems to be beautiful.  We Northerners are constantly amazed by the mild climate; rarely is it necessary to turn on the heat before November, and usually by March the temperature allows one to warm in the sun’s rays instead of with GPL, methane, or wood.

It is pleasing to see perfumed citrus, colored orange and yellow and light red, for our palate unusual but exquisite, and also the pale roses, even though not as fragrant as they were during the flowering season.  Here and there a butterfly flutters and sometimes one can see a bumblebee, stiffened in flight through the cold air, but still searching from plant to plant for some nectar to take home.

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What intrigued us almost 10 years ago, when we first came to Tuscany in October, was the soft covering of endless meters of ground with fine nets, often beige colored but sometimes also orange, green, and black.  Assuming that they were for harvesting olives, since they were placed in olive groves under and around the trees, we still could not understand the layout system.  There was a whole world to discover:  sometimes there seemed to be the work of an architect, although the arrangement of the nets seemed to be quite approximate.  Sometimes one could even see nets attached with the help of bamboo sticks, so that the nets did not touch the ground.

We also have olive trees, so sooner or later we would certainly have taken into consideration to harvest the olives for our own oil.  Therefore it seemed logical for us to try to explain the mystery of how the nets were arranged.

In general, as we were told, the nets are placed in order to minimize olive losses.  In fact, in October the olives start to be ripe and even a small wind is enough to make them fall into the net; otherwise they fall on the ground and are lost.  The more carefully the nets are placed, the more likely it is that the owner of the olive grove sells his oil or uses it for a large family and consequently needs it as a basic material for Tuscan excellence.  Each olive counts!  Certainly, sometimes it is simply a result of an owner who is careful and scrupulous.  This category often cuts the grass at least two or three times per year:  in spring, in early summer, and again before the harvest, an impressive feat considering that the olive groves often exceed four or five hectares in size; four or five football fields, in other words……

Then we move to the “Sunday collectors”, which is to say those people who own an olive grove but are not so attached to it.  Those, in short, who put the nets down a bit carelessly, without particular attention to whether or not a few olives are lost.  The grass is usually cut only once.

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Finally there is the category of those who have opted for Bio oil, which means among other things that no herbicides or chemical fertilizer are used and that none of the olives have touched the ground.  For us it is always an enigma how many times the others cut their grass; to us, their grass seems to be a smooth carpet on which weeds dare not show themselves.

This year we decided to jump into this adventure and see if we could bring home our very own extra virgin olive oil.  It is true that we did not mow the grass three times; it is true that we did not lay the nets very artfully but as best we could, seeing as how our olive grove is not level but quite sloped; and we have not used chemical fertilizer or herbicides.

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Our olives did not touch the ground for more than half an hour because, tree after tree, we separated the olives from the leaves and loaded them into containers which, the very same day (not in two or three days as many do), we transported to the olive mill.

The oil seems fantastic to us (all owners say this about their own oil!).  Those who are curious about this world and its products can contact us on:  info@farfalladitoscana.it.

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Anneliese Rabl (translation John McAuliffe) x

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