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From Grove to Table

From Grove to Table

Almost every Italian dish benefits from a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. But how does this culinary gold relate to the small, pitted fruit that grows on ancient, twisted trees in the Mediterranean? Discover Italian olive oil’s long, complex journey from grove to table.

GROVE

Italy boasts hundreds of cultivars, or cultivated varieties of olive trees, from the northern Taggiasca to the southern Coratina. Each olive grove is unique; everything from climate and soil to pruning technique contribute to the character of the resulting oil. This terroir, or taste of place, is a reliable indicator of an olive oil’s distinct flavors.

A word of advice when visiting a grove: try to hold off on sampling the fruits straight from the tree. When not cured or pressed, olives are incredibly bitter. There will be plenty of time to enjoy nature’s bounty when we’ve made our way to the table.

Olive Grove Toscana

HARVEST

Every fall, olives are harvested across Italy. This is a very delicate stage of olive oil production: it is key to harvest at the fruit's perfect maturation phase as quickly as possible to maintain freshness before pressing. But while timeliness is important, care must be taken, for olives bruise easily.

Producers harvest the olives using a variety of methods, including raccattatura, waiting for the olives to fall when they’re at their peak ripeness; scrollatura, shaking the branches; pettinatura, combing the olives off with a small rake; and bacchiatura, knocking the olives down with poles. To protect the olives for the best resulting oil, hand picking is the safest technique.

The olives are then quickly moved to the mill, where they should be cold pressed within hours.

05

FRANTOIO

The craft of pressing olive oil in the frantoio, or olive mill, has been honed over centuries. Traditionally, processors used stone or granite wheels to crush the olives. In fact, producers such as Roi continue to use a stone press to cold press their olives.

Today, many combine tradition and technology: stainless-steel rollers crush the olives along with the pits, grind them into a paste, and slowly stir in water. This process, known as malaxation, allows the tiny oil molecules to clump together and concentrate. To prevent oxidation, this is best completed in closed chambers at a low temperature, earning the descriptor “cold pressing.” The resulting paste is then placed on mats to be further pressed and sent through a centrifuge, which separates the paste remnants from the water and oil. Finally, the oil is separated from the water and stored in stainless-steel containers at a controlled temperature for a short period of time before being bottled and released for consumption.

This first pressing of olives creates “extra virgin” olive oil. This type has more flavor and aroma than “virgin” oil, which is pressed twice, and “pure” oil, which is made with chemical refining and filtering, neutralizing the flavors and acidic content. Extra virgin olive oil is the freshest and highest quality; always look for it in the market!

stone mill

MARKET

We are so close to the table! When shopping, remember: don’t cook with an olive oil that you wouldn’t happily consume in its raw state. With so many options, searching for high-quality oil can be overwhelming (even when there is an authentic Italian olive tree steps away, like at Eataly Chicago!).

Narrow your search to these factors: harvest date (the fresher, the better), origins (the olives should come from the same country — even better, from the same region or even estate), and cultivar (over time, learn which cultivar you prefer!). While oils range from deep yellow to even green, color does not indicate quality; in fact, when judges taste olive oil, they use a tinted glass.

Olive Tree_web grove to table

TABLE

Extra virgin olive oil is ubiquitous in the Italian kitchen, from drizzles on dishes to sauteing to even a pure tasting of the oils. To capture the full taste, we love to highlight the ingredient with a simple bruschetta recipe: toasted bread rubbed with a garlic clove topped with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and sea salt – all finished with a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil.

Your trip from grove to table is complete! Now, take the time to savor.

olives web grove to table

Learn how to host your own olive oil tasting on Eataly Magazine!

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