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Breaking Nails in Paradise - Stocking up - Our Olive Oil in Bernalda

Cristina Pinton

I am told that folks around here are used to stocking up for the year. Since most have land and many are farmers, when tomatoes (or eggplant, artichoke, pepper, fig, etc., each in their due season) are in full strength, they are used fresh for most meals every day. At the end of the season people begin to prepare for the upcoming one, using these products steamed, pureed, grilled, boiled and then jarred in some way - under oil or vinegar, as a puree used for sauces, marmalade or jam, etc. I suppose from the farmer's perspective this is how to be resourceful and practical and who knows what kind of weather or natural disasters may occur, thus each season's production is somehow preserved to be used throughout the year. Not to mention you save a tremendous amount of money this way. Although the amount of work spent in preparation balances against the savings.

In addition to the crops already mentioned, we also process and preserve olives and grapes. At my in-laws we drink the wine of my brother-in-law's family. There is enough to last throughout the year, served in recycled water bottles. It is good stuff.

Last year, I visited the "frantoio" or olive pressing but I missed the actual "raccolta" or harvest because it was at 6am and naturally, I was sleeping! Had I been prepared I'd have gotten up at the crack of dawn to accompany my husband and brother-in-law to the fields to watch them gather and stack the green crates that the harvesters had already filled for us. (No, my husband and brother-in-law did no harvesting themselves much to my husband's delight) The olive variety is called "ogliarola" or "rapollese" and supposedly 80% of cultivated land in the region of Basilicata is olive.

abandoned farm building near Bernalda

ogliarola olives

The olives are brought to the pressing area in the crates, which then get dumped into a metal container and follow a ramp into a machine which detaches and separates leaves and branches, then washes the olives. Then the olives are led into one or both of two machines, which crush the olives and create a rich brown/purplish paste. This "frantoio" used both stone wheels and a spinning metal screw-like device to crush the olives. From here the paste (pit and all is crushed) is then "squeezed" in some way (various places use a variety of methods) and the vegetal water and oil is squeezed out and separated from the pomace. Then the water is separated from the oil, which is then filtered, and poured directly into 50 liter containers for use. The entire process takes only about five to eight minutes from whole olive to oil. Incredibly green and pungent and beautiful!

Of course new extra virgin (ours is about .4/.5 % acidity ... more olives were on the purple side instead of less-mature green) takes about a month or so to settle. It's been filtered but is still quite opaque.

Six members of the family (not counting the two children) combined to share the expense of 875 kilos of olives, which went on to produce 135 liters of olive oil (costing only about €2.50euro per liter as a result, saving us tremendous money) which we brought home to then siphon into a variety of containers large and small to distribute and disperse among family members. This lasts us months ... and months ... and months.

Breaking Nails in Paradise is a series of articles on Slow Travel. Read more about the author, Cristina Pinton.

© Cristina Pinton, 2011

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