Corsica Rewards Grower for Olives Picked, and Those That Fell

A Corsican olive oil producer feared for her orchards after the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria was spreading on the island, but for the third consecutive year, Fabienne Maestracci was rewarded for the quality of her work.

Aug. 29, 2016
By Alice Alech

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This time last year, olive grower Fabienne Maestracci was afraid her trees would have to be destroyed. She was not alone: The island’s 500 olive oil pro­duc­ers were alarmed after the dreaded Xylella fas­tidiosa bac­terium had been spot­ted in Bonifacio, the most south­ern tip of the French Isle de la Beauté.

France’s Agriculture Minister vis­ited the area, the infected plants were burned, and every­one breathed sighs of relief.

The trees are hun­dreds of years old, they are not aligned, and they are very high which makes them dif­fi­cult for pick­ing.- Fabienne Maestracci

Things are dif­fer­ent this year. Maestracci’s har­vest­ing meth­ods for her mono­va­ri­etal were awarded a dou­ble dis­tinc­tion at Corsica’s olive oil fair Fiera di l’alivu, the yearly event held in mid-July. She received the recog­ni­tion for har­vest­ing her olive oil using a net, and another for har­vest­ing directly from the tree.

It was the first time such awards were bestowed by Corsica’s union of olive oil pro­duc­ers since L’Huile d’Olive de Corse-Oliu di Corsica decided last year to clas­sify olive oil from the island into the two dif­fer­ent types.

Hard-work­ing Maestracci explained why har­vest­ing olives from her 550 trees is tricky and risky. The trees are old, hun­dreds of years old, they are not aligned, and they are also very high which makes them dif­fi­cult for pick­ing.”

Maestracci starts har­vest­ing at the begin­ning of November and fin­ishes in February. It is a long period, any­thing can hap­pen. Also, we pick the olives ripe, so we have to work quickly,” she said.

Pruning of the local vari­ety Zinzala at her plan­ta­tion is a seri­ous affair. Zinzala olive trees adapt well to the very cold win­ters and hot sum­mers, but they grow hor­i­zon­tally thus requir­ing a lot of prun­ing. Maestracci has per­fected the Japanese tech­nique of prun­ing which she cred­its with her suc­cess.

Her cus­tomers, she explained, love the oils har­vested using the tra­di­tional method when the ripe olives are allowed to fall nat­u­rally onto the nets, and they can tell the dif­fer­ence between the oils.

Oil from ripe Zinzala olives has a fla­vor sim­i­lar to almonds and nuts. Fabienne said the oil made from the net method ren­der a taste of dried almonds, while those picked from the tree have a taste of fresh almonds.

She con­stantly wor­ries about Xylella fas­tidiosa and feels that more needs to be done to elim­i­nate the dis­ease, not only in Corsica but every­where. Although there is some san­i­tary con­trol, she feels that author­i­ties should pay more atten­tion to trace­abil­ity when import­ing plants.

We olive oil pro­duc­ers have to put the bot­tling date on our oil, but when you buy a plant, even the coun­try of ori­gin is not men­tioned.”

The Mediterranean area will always be under threat, and even the dry stone walls in Maestracci’s orchard can­not fully pro­tect her Zinzala trees. More than any­thing she wants to con­tinue the Corsican tra­di­tion of pro­duc­ing sweet olive oil. And her Oliu di Aliva is one of the best.



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