Olive Picking in Tuscany

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olive-harvest-tuscanyThe olive harvest in Tuscany season is between October and December. Unlike other Italian regions, olives in Tuscany are hand-picked quite earlier than the fruit would actually fall off the plant by itself. This produces a very fruity and lean extra virgin olive oil, albeit the yield is lower.
Browsing along the countryside in Tuscany during the month of November will give you the opportunity to see olive pickers at work. These groups of man and women work in a very organized fashion to get the most out of their working day. Tackling one plant at the time, they can go through thousands of plants in just days. Looking at the size of the olive groves they work in you would get the impression that a whole month of hard work would be the right time to complete the harvest. They are able to go through tens of olive trees in a day as each person dedicates his or her effort to one section of the plant. While one person, usually a man, takes care of the treetop with the help of a ladder, the others take care of the other portions of the tree. The utensils used usually are small plastic racks or combs that when passed through the branches catch the olives leaving leaves and branches slip off through their teeth. Others prefer to work with their hands, while others attach a long stick to their racks to reach the higher branches. During the last few years really large farms started employing special devices that preserve the integrity of olive trees and at the same time shake off even the most stubborn olives. Whatever the picking method, the must have is the large cloth at the foot of the tree that gathers the falling olives. It usually is a simple piece of large cloth, eight or more times the size of a queen-size bedspread, or a plastic net, which is cut from the center to a side and laid around the body of the tree. Should the ground be on a slope, canes and stick would be used to prop the cloth up and even out the sloping side, stopping the olives from rolling out.
Another very important and final phase of olive picking is the pruning. Each year olive trees must be pruned to keep them in shape and avoid they get to tall and grow olives difficult to reach. Therefore, during and right after the olive picking, expert hands cut off treetops and other minor branches that would weaken the plant.
When all the olives are picked, it is time for oil production. Everyday olives are crushed in a mill under two huge granite wheels that turn the fruits into a paste, which is then pressed dry. Finally the oil is separated from the water and bottled in glass. Producers that have smaller quantities of olives, up to two or three tons, usually go to a communal olive mill, which is paid in money or a percent of the produced oil. Larger, commercial farms have their own milling and bottling facilities. In both cases the process is entirely natural and as close to the ancient one as possible, without the employment of any chemical at all. This is the only way to obtain the delicious certified Tuscan extra virgin olive oil.