World

Olive Oil Tours Go From Farm to Bottle

Through the boughs of olive trees, bending under the weight of their fruits, visitors to Spain, Italy, and Croatia can experience the harvest that has kept these nations alive and healthy for generations.

Nov. 29, 2016
By Pamela Hunt

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Food tours are a boom­ing busi­ness, with peo­ple want­ing to learn how what they eat goes from farm to plate, or in this case, to bot­tle. As part of this grow­ing indus­try, sev­eral oper­a­tors have nar­rowed their focus to one vari­ety of olive oil to bet­ter explore the his­tory and impor­tance of this ancient food to its local cul­ture.

Olives and the oil extracted from them have played a vital role in the lives of peo­ple along the Mediter­ranean for cen­turies. Today, whether in Spain, Italy, or Croa­tia, vis­i­tors can wan­der through olive groves, learn about the oil-extrac­tion process, and, most impor­tant, sam­ple the final goods. Though the tours are offered year-round, the best time to par­take is late fall into early win­ter, dur­ing the oil-press­ing sea­son.

Although oils labeled as Span­ish might be a less famil­iar choice on Amer­i­can shelves, most of the olive oil sold on the world mar­ket orig­i­nates in Spain. Since the Phoeni­cians and Greeks first brought some trees to the Iber­ian penin­sula, Spaniards have trea­sured olive oil.

Guides from Olive Oil Tour in Granada, Spain, lead par­tic­i­pants through olive-laden trees out­side an Andalu­sian vil­lage and intro­duce them to a 15th-cen­tury mill where they learn about tra­di­tional oil-pro­cess­ing tech­niques that had been prac­ticed there. The tour wraps up with an olive oil tast­ing and a dis­cus­sion about ways to incor­po­rate the oil into all types of foods, both sweet and savory.

Olive oil has been a sta­ple of Ital­ian cui­sine since Ancient Rome, when the empire was intro­duced to this liq­uid gold dur­ing its for­ays in to for­eign lands. Olive groves flour­ished through­out what is now mod­ern-day Italy until the 16th and 17th cen­turies, when var­i­ous bat­tles and wars brought such dis­or­der to the region that the only grow­ers that remained were tucked away in Tus­cany.

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Today in this cen­tral region of Italy, lux­ury food and wine tour plan­ner Le Bac­canti shows vis­i­tors the high­lights of the olive oil indus­try in a small town between Flo­rence and Siena. Through learn­ing about the dif­fer­ences between tra­di­tional and mod­ern extrac­tion processes as well as what oil tasters are look­ing for in a great sam­ple, tour tak­ers can walk away edu­cated about the impor­tance this food holds for this region.

Some con­sider Croa­t­ian olive oil to be among the best the world. Šoltan­sko masli­novo ulje, which is oil pro­duced on the island of Šolta off the cen­tral Dal­ma­t­ian Coast, has even been awarded offi­cial Pro­tected Geo­graphic Indi­ca­tions and Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tions of Ori­gin sta­tus, join­ing the likes of Cham­pagne and Roque­fort cheese.

Olive oil afi­ciona­dos can day-trip to Šolta to tour Olyn­thia Natura. There they can lay hands on 1,000-year-old-plus olive trees, spec­i­mens of some of the old­est cul­ti­vated trees in the world. After tour­ing the groves, par­tic­i­pants head to the mill where guides from the Kaste­lanac fam­ily lead a Taste Like a Pro” class, shar­ing their knowl­edge gained from four gen­er­a­tions of olive oil pro­duc­ers.

While strolling through the boughs of olive trees, bend­ing under the weight of their fruits, vis­i­tors to these three coun­tries can expe­ri­ence the age-old process of the olive har­vest and pro­cess­ing that has kept these nations alive and healthy for gen­er­a­tions.



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