Sometimes I’m blow away with just how much I’ve changed since moving to the Maremma. Up until my early 20s, I was a city girl. I didn’t like getting my hands dirty and knew nothing about gardening. In fact, I was raised by the best. My mother can kill a pot of basil in record time.
Then I found myself in country Tuscany where everyone has their own vegetable garden and 9/10 times, their own olive grove. My father-in-law has 30 trees and its an annual tradition to pick the olives in October. I love it. Since he doesn’t have many, each olive is handpicked and the experience is very homely! Hence this picture of my brother and I picking olives into an old beach umbrella!
This year we picked almost two tons of olives. A lot of people thought we picked them too early, but my father-in-law doesn’t use pesticides, so if we left them on the trees any longer, there was a risk they would all fall to the ground and rot.
Olive picking is a great autumn Maremman activity. You don’t have to be a local to join the fun. Most agriturismi have a few olives trees or an entire grove, and if you plan your vacation ahead, you can help them gather the olives. It’s messy work and your hands will be dyed black from the olive juices, but it’s something you’ll never forget. Contact your agriturismi before you leave to ask when they’ll be picking their olives and whether guests are welcome to help.
Once the olives have been picked, they have to go to the frantoio or olive oil mill before they begin to rot. I always tag along with my father-in-law because it’s probably the most exciting part of the entire process.
Where they once used donkeys and massive stone wheels, they now use machines. The olives pass through a number of different ones that separate the leaves and twigs and crush the pulp. The crushed pit and other bits and pieces follow one path to a huge compost bin, while the freshly pressed olive oil pours out of another. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I’m still amazed at just how vibrant the green colour is!
New season olive oil is best used raw. You really shouldn’t cook with it because you’ll lose the amazing flavour and delicacy. Good quality olive oil has a really pungent smell and a spicy and sweet flavour.
I love to pour it over steamed vegetables or tossed with pasta and parmesan. However you use it, it should be accompanied with flavours that won’t overpower it, so don’t, for example, use it in a salad with a load of balsamic vinegar.
You don’t need your own olive grove to get new season oil. You can buy it virtually anywhere during this season. The best place to go is a local frantoio. They’re everywhere in the Maremma. To find them, simply search frantoio or oleificio together with the Maremman town you’re visiting. Google maps will do the rest.
If you come from a country where olive oil is extremely expensive then you’ll be surprised to find out just how cheap good quality new season olive oil is this time of year. You can buy a litre of the freshest and most delicious stuff for a mere €10.
In my household, we’re pretty particular about how we enjoy our new season olive oil. This year we ended up with 20 litres, which is a family record.
Our favourite recipe is a classic Tuscan bruschetta. Take a slice of no-salt Tuscan bread and lightly toast it in the oven. Quickly rub the toasted surface with a clove of peeled garlic to impart the flavour. Pour over a good drizzle of olive oil and finish with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.
It’s so simple, but it’s absolutely perfect! Have a gorgeous week wherever you are xx