Archaeologists have uncovered works of art that describe olive tree cultivation in the ancient world; many of the scenes are still acted out in the olive tree groves of the twentieth century.
Understanding how olives are grown and processed is a helpful tool in selecting olive oils and interpreting their labels. The steps in the process are harvesting, collecting, grading, crushing and pressing. Each of these stages influences the final flavor of the oil.
The trees thrive in the Mediterranean climate zone, which produces ninety-five percent of the world’s olive crop. Apulia is the region with the national production supremacy of olive oil in Italy. This is where this most exquisite “OLIO BEATO” is produced. It is comprised of the olives Corantina, and Oliarola Barese, which are combined in different proportions to create the olive oil.
The olives contain no oil until they are green in color. At this point a chemical transformation begins to change sugars and organic acids into oil. This process continues until the olives have fully ripened and turned black.
Ripe olives are harvested from November until March. The degree of ripeness determines the taste of the olive and its oil. Olives that are harvested after they have turned black contain more oil than red-ripe olives but their oil is more acidic.
Since the olives are fragile and firmly attached to the tree, they are still frequently harvested by hand. Workers balance on ladders and climb into the branches, snatching limbs with one hand and combing with the other with plastic comb heads. They may use small hand tools to strip the branches or use their hands, which they protect by wearing gloves or taping their palms. The most modern method which farmers use to collect the olives is the use of a new machine that grips onto the trunk of the olive tree and shakes it. The vibration of the tree makes the mature olives fall off and leaves behind the unripened olives.
Many experts feel that hand harvesting is essential to producing the finest quality oils. Hand harvesting is the technique most commonly used in Bitetto, Bari where the DeMarco family comes from.
The harvested olives are taken immediately to the oil-mill. They are placed in a vat and crushed into a paste by eight-ton granite or stainless steel millstones at room temperature. Five kilograms of olives are needed to obtain one liter or 1 1/2 cups of olive oil.
After the pressing, the oil must settle and then be decanted into airtight glass lined silos to maintain maximum freshness and quality. The mill technicians taste the oil for quality and measure the acidity level. If an oil is found to have less than 0.8% acidity and is considered perfect in flavor and aroma, it is called “Extra-Virgin”. This oil must have a richness and depth of flavor that captures the essence of the olive itself. This is the quality that “OLIO BEATO” has.
If an oil is found to have between 0.9% and 2% acidity, it is called “Virgin.” If an oil is found to have between 2% and 5% acidity, it is called “Regular” olive oil. “OLIO BEATO” always has an acidity content of below 0.5%.
Genuine extra-virgin olive oil is best served at room temperature because high heat can destroy its delicate flavor. Save it for salads and other cold dishes or trickle it over hot dishes just before serving so that the rich flavor can be fully enjoyed. Use it in dishes where it is the featured ingredient.
Italian olive oil (olio di oliva) is considered by many people to be the finest in the world, particularly those from Apulia. These oils are very rich with an intense olive taste, a peppery flavor and a deep, almost emerald green color with golden undertones.