By Jenna SeversonCHIUSDINO, Italy – It requires some patience and a whole lot of olives in order to produce Tuscan olive oil. My first taste of the olive oil from Tenuta Di Spannocchia, enlivened my senses and helped me see the cultural meaning behind each drop of the oil.
Here’s the basics: there are four types of olive trees used in the process of creating olive oil in Tuscany –leccino, pandolino, frantoio and moriolo. Harvest typically begins around the end of October to the beginning of November. To harvest olives, and avoid bruising the fruit, nylon nets are placed under the tress and the rake-like tools comb through the branches, pulling down olives as they go.
Olive oil production starts with the olives getting washed and then crushed to extract the oil from the olives. The water from the pressed olives is then separated from the oil and it is filtered once. Depending on the type of olive oil that is to be achieved a second filtration may take place.
At our Spannocchia olive oil tasting, Sara Silvestri, education director, discussed the process and types of oil and how to properly taste olive oil itself. Three shot glasses with different hues of greenish-yellow liquid were laid out on plates for each person.
We were instructed to take some olive oil into our mouth and then in a very serious manner (kidding) slurp the oil back so it coated the tongue and hit the back of the throat.
The three oils tried were an oil used typically for cooking, and two extra virgin oils. In addition to the varying colors of the three, the differences were easily distinguished in their flavor. As the color of the oil got darker, the taste was bolder and more pungent.
Olive oil is yet another example of the deep-rooted traditions Italians continue regarding food culture. Every lunch and dinner at Spannocchia, tables are topped with bottles of the farm’s olive oil along with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to be spread over bread, across salads and pretty much anything else. Oil is used here like butter is used in the United States – a staple ingredient that can assist in adding flavor to dishes, but rarely used on its own.