A little over three years ago, we decided to become olive farmers.
Of course, being middle aged Brits, we had no idea how to do this, but we knew a little bit about pasture maintenance, and a little bit less about farm machinery maintenance. And we were experts in preventing poaching by horse hooves around the gates to their paddocks, so we figured we’d be fine.
We also knew that the olive oil from Sabina, the area in which our future farm was located, is amongst the best in the world, according to the current owner of the farm, and the estate agent.
What could possibly go wrong?
Thankfully, at this point, a mutual friend introduced us to international olive oil expert, and all round nice guy, Johnny Madge. Johnny just so happens to be a Sabina resident of nearly 40 years, and one of his many olive oil related activities is taking tourists on olive oil tours, which showcase fabulous olive oils in the stunning Sabina countryside.
We took the plunge, and booked one of Johnny’s olive oil tours, in the hope of gaining a better understanding of what we were taking on.
It’s fair to say that that day with Johnny was a turning point for us. A morning touring the area and learning about olive oil production was followed by lunch, with a lesson on olive oil tasting in a gorgeous local restaurant. Johnny has a true passion for his subject, and he enthused us to the point that by the end of that day, we didn’t just want to buy an olive farm because we liked the house and the view it was attached to, we actually genuinely wanted to become olive farmers, and to produce the kind of oil that he had introduced us to.
Three years later, here we are mid harvest, and we are indeed olive farmers, and producers of single estate extra virgin olive oil.
We have an olive grove that consists of around 400 olive trees. Italy has at least 600 different olive varieties, but most of ours are Frantoio (native to Tuscany), Leccino, Pendolino and the Sabine classics, Carboncella and Raja.
Work for the new season’s oil begins during the previous year’s harvest, when we thin out excess branches, and remove parts of the tree that will be too tall for harvesting the following year. In the spring we carry out the major pruning, and through the spring, summer and autumn, we constantly snip away at suckers and overcrowded parts of our trees. We mow the grove several times a year, and in the weeks leading up to the harvest, we make sure that every tree is ready to have its precious crop removed, and that there is no debris on the ground to snag our delicate olive nets. By this I mean that we hand rake the entire grove.
Once the harvest begins, we start in the sunniest part of the grove, and work our way up, tree by tree, to the shadiest part. We harvest our olives while they are still a little under ripe (most are green, with some colour change, and virtually no black olives). This provides the best taste possible, and also maximises the wonderful polyphenols and and antioxidants that make olive oil so very good for you.
We harvest using hand held rakes, pulling the olives from the trees onto nets, from which we sort through them, removing any “sub-optimal” olives, twigs, leaves, and anything else that has found its way onto the nets. Finally, we gather up the best olives, and put them in small crates.
Every other evening, we take what we have harvested to the olive mill, where they are weighed, before being washed, mashed into a gloopy paste, and then centrifuged into green gold.
Every batch has its own unique flavour, and every batch is tasted by us as soon as we get it home, and every batch tastes wonderful.
But how, I hear you ask, do you taste olive oil?
Well. We could try to describe the process ourselves, but …
Friends in Rome, Julia and Pino, run a fabulous cookery school called Grano & Farina where as well as their lessons and courses, they hold Olive Oil Evenings, where Johnny guides you through tasting, and also teaches you how to pair olive oils with foods.
And Julia’s friend Vicky is the person behind my absolute favourite YouTube channel: Pasta Grannies. And Julia introduced Johnny to Vicky, and they made this lovely video for Pasta Grannies, in which Johnny will teach you how to taste oil.
So here’s Johnny, on the Pasta Grannies YouTube channel, explaining how to taste olive oil:
Over the last three years, Johnny has become a dear friend, and so when I cheekily asked his opinion on our oil, he very kindly agreed to taste a couple of batches for us. Here’s what he had to say about them:
OIL 1 has a medium intense fruitiness, with flavours of butter, lettuce, hay and green almond. It is soft and full in the mouth with a very gentle bitterness leading slowly to a nice, persistent peppery finish where notes of lettuce and olives linger pleasantly.
OIL 2 has a medium low fruitiness, with flavours of leaves, grass, herbs and chicory. There are notes of green pepper, jalapeño with a tingle in the nose like wasabi.
Well, there you have it.
If this blog post has enthused you, then obviously I would encourage you to buy some of our oil to try it for yourself.
We hope that real life will return very soon, and that you can come to Rome, and to our beautiful Sabina, and take cookery lessons and olive oil tours, and enjoy olive oil pairing evenings.
But in the meantime, all of these activities are available in the virtual world:
Johnny is currently offering online olive oil tastings via zoom, but we also highly recommend his olive oil tours, once tourism opens up again: www.johnnymadge. com
Grano e Farina is a super cookery school in the heart of Trastevere, Rome. Julia and Pino are currently offering classes online via zoom: https://www.grano-farina.com/
And finally, we absolutely love the Pasta Grannies YouTube channel, and have cooked many a delicious meal from their beautiful cookery book: https://www.pastagrannies.com/new-cookbook