Sunday, June 24, 2012

Olives from the Tree to the Shelves

SJ: In International Horticulture this week we learned about olive trees, olive oil, and olive harvesting just in time for our day trip to Assisi which is home to many olive wood shops. Many of these shops sell kitchen utensils such as wooden spoons, forks, bowls, cutting boards, and even pizza cutters, all carved in the smooth warmly colored and characteristically dark veined olive wood. Olive trees are an important resource in Italy because of the many products that can be produced from the crop. From the courtyard at the Santa Chiara study center, we can see an orchard of the silver-green trees nearby as well as a patchwork of olive orchards on the mountains surrounding the valley. The olives are not ripe yet in Castiglion Fiorentino and the fruits are still only slightly larger than the head of a pin. But, when harvest season comes in the fall, depending on the size of the business, the olives may be gathered with machinery, or a family may gather together to help with the harvest using rakes to pull the olives from the branches of the trees to be collected on nets arranged on the ground below. These olives can then be ground and squeezed to produce olive oil. While Italy does not produce as large a quantity of olive oil as Spain, Italy is known for its higher quality of oil, or extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil is also necessary in the maintenance of olive wood products to keep the wood from drying out and cracking, so a regular treatment of olive oil was encouraged by many of the shops in Assisi.

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