Olive oil is a natural condiment as it is obtained by pressing a fresh fruit - the olive.
It is therefore obvious that the flavour, colour and all the
other chemical and organoleptic characteristics of the oil depend
on numerous natural factors. For example: the type of olive
tree (395 "cultivar" or
"species" exist in Italy, 33 of which are from
Tuscany alone), latitude and
climate, year, type of
soil and harvesting methods.
The best-known varieties include: Leccino, Frantoio, Moraiolo, Ogliarola, Coratina, Nocellara del Belice, Gentile, Canino, Biancolilla and Carolea.
In general, the olive tree prefers a temperate climate without sudden changes in temperature (the Mediterranean basin is ideal), and calcareous, well-drained soil.
The olive is the result of the transformation of the olive blossom into fruit, known as drupe, which can occur anytime between the months of spring and the end of the summer.
The olive consists of a skin (epicarp),
pulp (mesocarp) and a stone
(endocarp), containing the seed.
It ripens slowly, changing in size and colour, from green to red to a dark purple, right up until full maturation during the months of November and/or December.
The proper time to start harvesting is when the
olive is half-green with a purple tip. Harvesting continues through
to the end of January.
Hand harvesting (BRUCATURA or picking) is still considered the best method of harvesting.
Despite being costly, it guarantees the integrity of the olive and therefore a high quality olive oil.
Alternative methods do, however, exist. Amongst these are BACCHIATURA, that is beating the trees with poles or canes and SCUOTITURA, shaking the trees with machines, gathering the fruit afterwards on sheets laid out under the trees. There is also PETTINATURA, the process of running wooden rakes along the branches; lastly, the worst method- CADUTA SPONTANEA, letting ripe olives naturally fall to the ground when ready. The latter results in an oil that has serious organoleptic defects and high acidity.