During late fall and all the way into winter Italian growers can be seen scurrying throughout the Tuscan hillside picking the precious ripe fruit found dangling from the endless groves of olive trees. Italy has a rich and long history with many agricultural crops, particularly the olive. Olives are a part of the Italian culture and daily life, without their presence the face of Italy would be drastically different. Perhaps one of the best regions for producing premium olives would be found within the rolling hills of Tuscany. Olives thrive here due to the dry climate, which helps limit the transmittance of disease, as well as the friable soils that Tuscany has to offer.
For the olive grower, maintaining the acres and acres of olive groves, which are often situated along steep hillsides, requires constant attention, monitoring, and an unending supply of hard work. Olive trees are slow growers, climbing around two feet per year if conditions are perfect. They are heavily pruned to allow light to penetrate within the canopy, thus improving the quantity and quality of fruit that each tree can produce. Although they will produce for years and years, one of the downfalls is that they are susceptible to hard freezes. Interestingly enough, this was evident on one of our horticultural walks. We noticed that every "tree" had multiple trunks, i.e. suckers, rising from the ground. As it turns out there was a devastating freeze that killed many of the olives around central Italy. Luckily, the resilient root system was not harmed and suckers soon arose. With judicious pruning and with a little patience, growers will be able to bring their olive groves back into peak production within no time.
The major varieties planted in the Tuscan region are Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolio, Maurino, Moraiolo, and Taggiasca. These varieties are solely used for oil production. When harvest time arrives, growers excitedly fill giant bags full of the ripe fruit and then send them to their local frantoio, or oil processor. There they are washed, pressed, and purified into the oil that Italians rely so heavily on. The oil is then bottled into glistening bottles and shipped throughout Italy and then around the world. Italians are proud of their olive oil, and with such an excellent taste and the countless ways that olive oil can be utilized, they should be!