THE world’s biggest producer of olive oil is Spain – and the region at the heart of that production is Andalucia. So when you buy a small parcel of land in the Alpujarra region of Andalucia, and that land supports a few olive trees, it’s important to familiarise yourself with olive oil production. I’ve discovered that this is a steep, though well-lubricated, learning curve . . .
The olive gathering season is now drawing to a close, but just before Christmas I had a crash course in olive picking. My instructor was Jordi – a native of Catalonia and the chap we bought our house off. A young German traveller called Tobias also helped with the picking. This is how you harvest olives:
Place nets on the ground beneath an olive tree. Thrash the tree with sticks until all the olives have fallen. Drag the nets to the next tree, being careful not to lose a single olive. Repeat the process.
After three or four trees the nets become too heavy to drag, so you roll the olives into a heap and pick out the twigs. You then scoop the olives into crates and cover them with protective layers of twigs.
When you’ve harvested your olives, you take them to the mill and tip them into a huge hopper – being careful not to drop your specs in, as my friend Bruce did the following week. You then watch the precious green virgin oil trickle from a stainless steel pipe at the far end of the building.
Olive harvesting is a very satisfying though exhausting exercise. To get an idea of the physical exertion involved, take a clothes prop and thrash some trees for three days.
After my crash course with Jordi, I spent a further three days helping Bruce to harvest olives from his fifty-or-so trees (this was before his specs dropped off). Bruce uses long-handled rakes to strip his trees rather than sticks and brute force. This is an infinitely more relaxing and agreeable way to do the job. It allows opportunities to interact with your fellow workers – or “talk”, as we used to say.
And that’s how you harvest olives.
Incidentally, against all the odds, and from the midst of nearly a metric tonne of greasy olives, Bruce spotted his glasses whizzing along a conveyor belt and rescued them before they were despatched, in fragments, to the dinner tables of the world. So there you go – a happy ending.