During our first couple of days in Italy, Shelby (my roommate/class buddy) and I were feeling particularly explorative and ventured down a slightly overgrown footpath that led down to a lower portion of town. As we sauntered down, we were noticing some of the vegetation that was growing all around us. We came upon a grove of trees that seemed to be more orderly and groomed than the others. The leaves had a silvery hue to them and there were a couple of men wandering through them, watering and mulching the grove. Because Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my mom’s favorite movies, I was subjected to watching it enough times that I can quote the whole thing. I remembered a scene in the movie when Francis is helping her new friends harvest olives, which were the same trees that Shelby and I saw. Once I noticed that one grove of olive trees, I began noticing them everywhere. Later that day, we journeyed the same path as a class and Dr. Lombardini pointed out the same grove we saw earlier. He explained that olive trees are grown in places of higher elevation, making the hills of Tuscany a perfect location.
This past week, we discussed olives and olive oil in lecture. I found out that Jasmine (a beautiful and fragrant vining plant that grows rampant here and in my backyard in Austin) is in the same family as the olive tree; Family Oleaceae. I was surprised to learn that green olives (my favorite kind) are actually unripe olives that remain unripe through the pickling process. Additionally, black olives are a bluish color when picked and turn black after pickling.
During our trip to Orvieto last Friday, we got to tour some of the underground remains of the old Etruscan city. Many of the caves were used as cellars and storage for the aboveground dwellings, connected by a tunnel from the house to the cave. In one of the cellars, there was an oil press that had been restored so that we could see how it worked. I remembered how Dr. Lombardini discussed these in class and it was really cool to see in person. The olives are grinded into a paste using a stone grinder, then applied to filter-like disks and squeezed under a giant press to extract the oil. It’s fascinating to me how this ancient process is still used today. Just like my grandpa always says, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!”