By Marilyn Bommarito
Sicily is not only reknown for its excellent wines but also for its unique olive oil, “oro verde” (green gold) as we call it.
Olive harvest usually takes place from the end of October to the beginning of November, but this year it was anticipated. The quantity of olives is much less than last year but the quality is great.
Olive harvesting is a big deal in Sicilian families that own olive trees: it’s a family matter! Every component of the family has its tasks. Before the harvest the father and elder sons prepare the land, cutting the grass and the sprouts that grow around the tree trunk, so the nets can easily be arranged around the trees.
When it’s time for the olive picking the whole family participates. Large nets are placed under the olive tree so the olives don’t reach the ground and only the fresh olives are gathered. The olives are hand-picked facilitated by the use of a small plastic rake, called “manina” (small hand) passed through the thin branches full of olives. The sound of the olives falling on the nets seems like big rain drops on the ground. Usually the younger men pick the olives from the high branches while women and the elderly work on the lower ones. Even the children give a hand, but just in the beginning of the day because after a while they tire out and prefer playing together running around and climbing the trees (I used to love doing that!). When all the olives are picked from the tree, the nets are gathered and the olives are put either in Jute sacks or in plastic cases.
At the end of the day the olives are brought to the olive mill. It is important the the olives are milled within the day so the fresh aromas of the olives remain and the oil gains in quality.The olives are processed immediately. First the olives are washed and the leaves are discarted.The olives are then ground and become a greenish paste that macerates and winds in a special tank. Afterwards this paste is pressed and a mixture of oil and water is goes into the separator that extracts the oil, discarting the water. The most emotional moment arrives when a big faucet is opened and the emerald green oil flows in stainless steel tanks.
In the evening family and friends gather for the new-oil-tasting dinner that consists of warm “muffolette” (medium-sized soft, round bread loafs) seasoned with olive oil, anchovies and caciocavallo cheese. What better way to celebrate an ancient Sicilian family tradition!