What Makes a Quality Olive Oil?
Harvesting Olives with Honest Toil
Autumn’s arrival in Austria is such a treat: the crispy-crunch of leaves underfoot, the cool, damp, lingering evenings... Golden afternoon sunshine melts into sweater weather, huge cups of tea warming our hands and...olive oil?
Did you know that olives are harvested in late November in Greece? This week we spoke to Honest Toil Oil about hand-harvesting, generous neighbours and the risk of falling out of trees. At this small company, the olive harvest is a family affair with all hands on deck and all olives considered for the cut.
The olive harvest begins in the trees, where volunteers hand-pick the fruit and drop it into nets, sometimes shaking the branches with thin rakes to release the fruit. From there, the olives are hand processed. They’re gently slid away from their leaves and twigs and packed away into large burlap sacks to be carried off to the press.
Why go to all the trouble? Olives are sensitive fruits that don’t enjoy being roughly handled. Hand-picking ensures the best yields from the harvest, as well as incomparable quality… treating the olives well means that the acidity of the oil is incredibly low; always under 0.3%! Low acidity is the latest buzz-word in olive oil quality, as it indicates that the olives are fresh off the tree. Olives that are harvested early produce less yield, but better flavour, as well as a longer shelf life. The acidity levels of the oil are determined by the pH of the soil the olive trees grow in, as well as how quickly the olives are processed.
The backbreaking work is weather dependent and often carries on all day. It is a labour of love, community and family, bringing everyone together for the sake of the delicious prize: pure, cold-pressed olive oil. It is important that the olives be collected as quickly as possible, as the quality of the oil depends on their freshness.
The first pressed, unrefined olive juice is a gorgeous, warm golden colour with hints of hearty olive green and notes of fresh pepper, rich earth, and sunshine. To preserve the colour, flavour and healthy properties of the olives, the oil is quickly cold pressed at a facility just two miles away from the family farm.
Only the first fresh-pressed olive oil can be designated as “extra virgin”, as it can only be classified as extra virgin with an acidity of 0.7%. Some producers get around these numbers by blending high quality oils with lower quality oils to squeeze their percentages under this threshold, which is why an acidity of .3% is truly something special.
Since Honest Toil’s extra virgin olive oil is unrefined, it retains the antioxidants (vitamins A & E), that can be damaged by processing or heat. This means that the oil is one of the healthiest on the market, as it is antioxidant rich and naturally free from cholesterol. The faster the olives are brought to the press, the better the quality of the oil. If the olives sit too long after picking, they can oxidize, leaving a sour flavour behind. The results of Honest Toil’s fresh-pressed oil are as pure as pure gets: unrefined, and unadulterated, for an undeniably delicious flavour.
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