I am trying to keep away from the computer at present to avoid this most obnoxious, recent invasion to Europe, “Black Friday”. Instead, I have been out on the land, working in the sunshine harvesting our olives. I know that I have written at length in my series of Olive Farm books, particularly the two travel books THE OLIVE ROUTE and THE OLIVE TREE about olive farming, its culture and its history. Still, every year when I return to the land to pick the fruits – a backbreaking task but one that I enjoy enormously – I am yet again enthused by the subject. I am reminded of how rewarding and historically rich this activity is and it fills me with a real sense of humility and I am grateful to Mother Nature for her gifts.
We pick by hand, using no machines. We don’t even beat the fruits to the netted earth because the sticks bruise the fruit’s skin, causing it to split, the oil to weep and thus the fruit begins to oxidise. Oxidation augments the level of acid in the pressed olive oil. Olive oil that has an oleic acid level of higher than 0.8% cannot be sold as Extra Virgin. (Some territories allow the acid level to reach 1% before the oil loses it Extra Virgin label. In Europe, the regulations are more stringent). Once the oil has lost its Extra Virgin quality, it loses many of its natural vitamins and minerals and, most importantly, it lacks the antioxidants that make extra-virgin olive oil such a gift to our kitchens and our good health. These include protection again heart disease, lowering of cholesterol levels, protection against type II diabetes as well as several cancers.
Recently-pressed unrefined olive oil has a greener or golden hue whereas refined olive oil will be lighter in colour and lack any residue of the flesh of pressed fruits. Because olive oil, unlike wine, does not have a long shelf life, it is important to consume it young.