`Harvesting Under the Moon - Olive Oil Times

Harvesting Under the Moon

Oct. 28, 2013
Luciana Squadrilli

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Olive har­vesters in Italy are get­ting busy despite the hap­haz­ard weather con­di­tions, with rain­falls and cold in Northern and Central regions and almost sum­mer-like tem­per­a­tures in the South. The high tem­per­a­tures caused oper­a­tions to stop for some days, to pre­vent spoil­ing of the olives. Beside mak­ing the pick­ing harder, high tem­per­a­tures can ruin the har­vest, often caus­ing fusty or mouldy olive oil as a final prod­uct. This is what hap­pens when olives are stored for long time before being processed, caus­ing an anaer­o­bic fer­men­ta­tion that wastes them; the longer they stay, the worse it gets, and if it is warm the fer­men­ta­tion goes quicker.

According to experts and grow­ers, envi­ron­men­tal tem­per­a­ture can also affect the olive oil inten­sity and other aro­matic fea­tures. During the early pick­ing of olives in Ugento and the sur­round­ings — an area blessed with sunny weather and warm tem­per­a­tures almost all year long — the fruit’s tem­per­a­ture after it’s been pulled reaches and exceeds 27°C (80.6°F) both before the press­ing and dur­ing the pro­cess­ing, thus void­ing what the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions define as cold extrac­tion.”

An orig­i­nal solu­tion was pro­posed by the olive farm Forestaforte, in Ugento, a small vil­lage in Apulia whose econ­omy is mostly based on agri­cul­ture and wine and oil pro­duc­tion. Run by Giovanni Melcarne, on the 16th October the Forestaforte olive­yard hosted a night olive har­vest. Having been already imple­mented for the wine grapes har­vest in Sicily, the night pick­ing was an absolute inno­va­tion for olive har­vest­ing in Italy. This was not only a pro­mo­tional ini­tia­tive, but also had a sci­en­tific pur­pose.

This was the core of the research project launched by Coldiretti Lecce (the local branch of the National Growers Federation) together with the University of Salento, the Institute of Sciences of Food Production (ISPA-CNR), the Multilab of the local Chamber of Commerce, the University of Perugia and Unaprol, that was pre­sented in Ugento dur­ing a con­fer­ence about the new Common Agricultural Policy and its effects on olive oil pro­duc­tion in Apulia and Salento. The con­fer­ence was held at the New Archaelogical Museum of Ugento and also fea­tured the speeches by: Massimo Gargano, Unaprol (“The ter­ri­tory as an asset”); Pietro Sandali, Coldiretti (“The new CAP 2014 – 2020 does not dam­age extra vir­gin olive oil”); prof. Maurizio Servili, University of Perugia (“New tech­no­log­i­cal approachs to Italian high qual­ity olive oils”); Carmelo Buttazzo, Apulia Olive Grower’s Association (“Experimentation in the field”).

High tem­per­a­tures occur­ring dur­ing the day,” explained Pantaleo Piccinno, Chairman of Coldiretti Lecce, can deter­mine a loss of scents in the oil. But those scents, along with organolep­tic fea­tures, can be pre­served with a night har­vest at lower tem­per­a­tures. With this ambi­tious exper­i­men­ta­tion we want to raise the bar of qual­ity, to strengthen in the col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion the asso­ci­a­tion between Apulia, the land between two seas, and the high qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.”

The night har­vest, that also hosted a tast­ing of local prod­ucts and freshly pressed extra vir­gin olive oil, took place in one of the olive groves of Forestaforte named Cisterna del Serpe” (Snake’s Cistern). It was a moment knowl­edge-shar­ing and expe­ri­ence, but also an impor­tant step in research. Several sam­ples will be col­lected dur­ing the night har­vests, in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, aim­ing to test — both the chem­i­cal and sen­sory aspects — the evo­lu­tion of the aromatic/volatile ele­ments often lack­ing in the local extra vir­gin oils obtained from early-har­vested olives. The strat­egy could serve as an exam­ple for other Italian and inter­na­tional olive oil pro­duc­ers.

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