January 15 2022
Autumn: olive harvesting season
The olive harvest is one of autumn’s most important agricultural activities in many regions of italy. It marks the transition between two phases: on the one hand, it concludes the olives’ life cycle and, on the other, it signals the beginning of a long and labor-intensive process of transforming the olives into oil.
This process usually takes place from October to December, and its lasts according to the type of olive and the climate.
To determine the right time to harvest the olives, the grower relies on purely agronomic parameters such as the colour index, resistance to detachment and pulp hardness. These parameters are fairly easy to measure, as no special tools are required, but thorough knowledge of the raw material and extensive experience in the field are necessary.
The grower can also use chemical tests to measure the sugar or polyphenol levels, depending on whether he is looking to optimize the production volume or the final product’s organoleptic quality. The producer will favour green olives early in the season to produce an oil with a high concentration of polyphenols, characterized by a pleasant, complex, harmonious and lasting aromatic profile.
The resulting oil has a higher selling price because it is truly exceptional, so every drop must be cherished! Olives at the veraison stage, when they start to change from green to purple, allow for a higher production volume while maintaining interesting organoleptic properties. An olive at the veraison stage can yield 50 to 60% more than a green olive.
Delaying the harvest longer after the veraison stage, when the olives are fully ripe, allows for a bigger production volume and therefore a lower selling price. However, due to the olives’ gradual ripening, the percentage of oleic acid has less linoleic acid and fewer phenols, thus altering the oil’s organoleptic properties. A good example would be the vast majority of extravirgin olive oils sold in Canada.
ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
In reality, the process of determining the right time to harvest is much more complex. Not all varieties ripen homogeneously at the same rate.
In some cases, the olive tree produces fruit at different stages of ripeness, forcing the producer who wishes to obtain high-quality oil to harvest by hand, which increases the final product’s price considerably.
The producer must also be careful not to delay harvesting the olives for two reasons: more mature olives are subject to insect attacks and have a higher free acidity, which alters the quality of the final product. Also, by delaying the harvest until later in the season, the producer is more likely to experience the effects of night frosts, which greatly affect the quality of the oil. For these reasons, the ideal time to harvest olives does not necessarily coincide with the sought-after optimal stage of ripeness; it often depends on the impact that different climatic and environmental factors can have on the quality and yield of the fruit, which vary from one harvest to another and even more so with climate change.
TRUST YOUR PALATE
You don’t need to be a professional taster to “taste” the ripeness of the olives used to produce an oil. Olive oils produced with overripe olives will taste like black olives; think of Kalamata olives. These oils often have more or less noticeable organoleptic defects – the most common being a rancid, nutty aftertaste. And some of their characteristics, such as bitterness and a pungent aftertaste, found in better quality oils, will lack harmony. In other words, your senses will tell you that something is off; think of an instrument that sounds out of tune.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A GOOD OLIVE OIL
Conversely, oils made with green olives evoke freshness; think freshly cut grass or a basket of fresh vegetables. They have a much more fluid texture and do not leave a greasy residue on the lips. Finally, their bitter and spicy aftertaste is pleasantly balanced and complex, even if it is more pronounced. You can be confident in using these oils to enhance the flavour of your food. But you will need to close the bottle tightly and store it in a cool, dark place to preserve every drop!
Article from the Fall 2021 Magazine: https://www.favuzzi.com/en/magazines