Article by Jadro Subic, photos by Jadro Subic and David Gollob
When you talk about olives in Sicily, it is more about the three thousand years of ‘olive culture’ than it is about just olive cultivation.
Though not everybody agrees on which part of Sicily has the best olive oil, the most prestigious DOP (denominazione di origine protetta) is the area of Monti Iblei, the mounts stretching from Catania to Siracusa and Ragusa.
The most favorable altitude is around 700 meters above the sea, though some trust that the closeness to the sea improves the olives antioxidant properties. There are several varieties used both for oil production and brine or oil-curing.
I’ve always enjoyed my olive oil, even as a kid, but here in Sicily, no matter how much one knows about it, there’s much more to learn. Especially at this time of year, it becomes the favourite subject of local conversation.
Wherever you go, people offer advice to strangers in stores, restaurants, or at the market, not to mention friends and neighbours. Your accountant, your realtor, even your doctor will have something to add or to suggest.
Once we found ourselves owners of a lovely property with six first-class olive trees, they were all eager to explain to us (Canadians) the worth of our newly-acquired fortune, a few even offered to guide us through the process. We are of course very appreciative of all their support
For olive oil pressing, it all must be done within 36 hours. The day of the harvest the special light-net sheets are spread around the tree, for no olive should touch the ground directly. We filled six large breathable sacks and left them in the shade.
The following day, David took the olives to one of the community presses in the neighbouring town and watched the whole process play out with a bunch of other (mostly) men doing the same. He noticed a clear difference in attitude between the locals and everyone else. There was a retired science teacher from northern Italy who got a bit more respect from the locals, but otherwise…
Every batch is done separately, so you stand there and follow your own olives being weight (we had 167kg), put in a special container, cleaned from branches and leaves, washed, and so on.. More or less 2 hours to get your very own olive oil. To quote David:The perfume of olive oil in the mill was intoxicating… people here take this incredibly seriously and there was an atmosphere of excitement among the crowd, mostly 60+ with olive-bellies…
We brought a 30 litre barrel and filled 4 cans, 5 litres each. there’s a bit more at the bottom of the barrel, perhaps enough to fill a 1 litre bottle.
It had to be decanted since there should be no air inside the containers while it sits and sediment the residue. I just tasted a spoon of it on a piece of bread. Both the smell and the taste are incredibly rich.