Last night I sat in an Umbrian farmhouse and ate bruschetta, the fresh baked bread toasted on the wood burning stove, brushed with farm grown garlic, lightly sprinkled with salt and generously doused in our just pressed olive oil, mmmmmmm……..
However before getting to taste the oil a slow love filled process had occupied many hours. The afternoon started off with my car loaded with crates of olives picked from the trees at Bellaugello Gay Guest House following Martin’s Apetto, that delightfully eccentric three wheeler that symbolises rural life here in Umbria, slowly, real slowly as it trundled up and down hill on the way to Gubbio on the way to the Frantoio. It is surprising just how much more of the countryside I noticed as we drove the 15km to Gubbio at an average 35km an hour. It was to be a foretaste of what was to be a slow food, slow process, slow slow afternoon, but one that I would not have missed for the world.
The frantoio that Martin uses nestles on the hillside above the medieval city of Gubbio, the access road is tiny, I certainly would not have found it on my own, the mill is small but very popular, like a real good restaurant or shop only those ‘in the know’ are aware of its existence, and best kept that way, it was busy. From the names on the crates of olives waiting to be processed it seems it is the crême de la crême of frantoios.
but then the wait began, the process at this frantoio is very labour intensive and like all the best things in life it takes time.. lots of it!
It is crucial that every persons’ olives are processed in individual batches, (one has no idea of the quality or farming conditions of other olives, and how else do you end up with your own oil?) so before yours are milled you wait whilst the previous olives move to the next stage of the process.
The next stage in the process comes when the archimedes screw leading to the grind stones is opened and the olives tumble into the grind wheels. The stones are huge pieces of granite, stunning, simple and very effective
The stones rotate at a constant fast speed slowly grinding the whole olives to a mushy pink paste, in all a good 3/4 of an hour. Once pulverised they move to the next stage of the process, a holding tank where they are kept moving ready to be spread onto the press mats.
This frantoio works on the old system, cold press, traditional, the best. Some concessions have been made to technology, the heaviest work is now aided by smart squeaky clean mechanical technology, but always under the watchful eye of experienced men
Mats are built up paste, mat, paste, mat, paste, mat, to the height of about 2c meters and placed by the technology onto large spikes with collecting tray underneath before being wheeled, oil already beginning to drip, to the large hydraulic presses where the extraction process really begins
and to press well takes time! the olives stay in the press for almost two hours, minimal pressure at first only gravity means no heating, so the best oil, it is only at the very end of the press that the force is ramped up
From the press pipes carry the oil and water which is present in the fruit to a further tank to await the final process of separating the oil from the other liquids in the centrifuge
And now oil, our oil, virgin, cold pressed, Valdichiascio oil. This year the “resa” or yield was good we achieved 19.2%. So into the tins, back into the car and Ape and off to the nearest bar for a glass of celebratory prosecco before heading back to Valdichiascio for the aforementioned bruschetta…
The oil is DIVINE deep green, fragrant, spicy, fresh, strong and intense, it may have taken almost seven hours for the process from fruit to oil and hours of climbing up the trees picking, stretching to reach that one last olive on the uppermost branch just out or almost just out of reach but not to be left, but every minute was worthwhile and fascinating, and of course we will use the oil in our kitchen, once again be serving bruschetta, and have a few bottles available for guests to purchase.