Here we go, the Ligurian olive harvest’s season started!
A few days ago I had the opportunity to help my farmer friends of Borgo San Pietro during the harvest and I learned a lot. A really interesting and cool experience. So, thanks to Italian Storytellers’ readers for the excellent excuse they served me 😉
The Ligurians started the olive cultivation and the oil production with the Roman colonization and kept and developed this farming tradition until the Lombard invasion to rediscover it during the Middle Ages. However, it was something marginal, completing the wine production till the domination of the Republic of Genoa.
Then, with the plague period in the XIV the cost of oil rises and a great season for cultivation starts together with the terracing process of the region. Grain mills transformed to olive mills and people start using oil to illuminate, for power supply, to preserve food, to produce cosmetics and medicines and many other essential application. The Ligurian olive oil get exported to other regions and countries and 2 important types of olives develope: taggiasca (i.e. from the town of Taggia) and lavagnina (i.e. from the town of Lavagna).
Nowadays, in Liguria we have more than 170 olive mills and our oil is an extra virgin olive oil called Riviera Ligure (i.e. Ligurian coast). Its origin designation is checked and protected by the Italian DOP designation and we actually have 3 different type depending on its geographical origin:
- Riviera dei Fiori (i.e. the flowers coast), around Imperia: 90% of taggiasca olives, considered by connoisseurs one of the best in the world. It is a precious light and fruity oil. Unmistakable;
- Riviera di Ponente (i.e. the east coast), around Savona: 50% of taggiasca olives;
- Riviera di Levante (i.e. the west coast), from Genoa to La Spezia: 55% of lavagnina olives.
The harvest technique depends on several elements, such as regional traditions, the height of the trees, numbers of helping hands… In Borgo San Pietro they unruled colorful nets on the lawn under the trees just before shaking the branches to have the ready olives fall down. Once this done, we had to separate the fallen olives from the leaves and small things while passing them to the plastic boxes used for transport to the mill.
If you come to Liguria in this period, you will also notice a lot of orange and dark green nets fixed under olive trees. This is to collect the self falling olives at the end of the harvest season, but in this case the oil quality will be quite lower.
The yield of Ligurian olives generally goes from a minimum of about 8 kg up to a maximum of 22-28 kg of extra virgin olive oil per 100 kg of pressed olives, depending on the sun exposure of the trees, the rainy days during the growing season and the harvest time. This year wasn’t a very fruitful one, but it was really fun to help my friends and then go to the mills and share the harvest at the end of the day.
The best way to taste our extra virgin oil is on toasted bread with a pinch of salt, but I suggest that you also use it on fresh mixed salads, with tomatoes and home dried oregano and then you should of course try our traditional dishes using olives, such as the Ligurian stewed rabbit, the lamb with olives, the roast beef with olive sauce, the Levantine stockfish, the caponata or you can simply eat them while drinking a cold cocktail before dinner 🙂