Olive picking or raccolto dell’oliva at Villa Baldaccini

A new acquaintance in November 2013, Renzo Balaccini has since become a good friend, a delightful and generous person. He owns Villa Baldaccini where he and his wife Nadia live, where he runs his cooking school, entertains guests with local traditional food and wine and importantly his own produced olive oil.

Last November I spent a day helping to pick the olives and learn about the process to extract and create the olive oil. For me being semi-retired the 8 o’clock start was earlier than normal but it was a pleasant morning and a very beautiful location just six kilometres to the north of Lucca. Getting straight to the job in hand we walked down the sloping terrain by the side of the villa to where that day’s harvest was taking place. Renzo has just under 1,000 trees on three hectares of his property or azienda agricola ranging from some he planted with his father around ten years ago to others that are at least two hundred years old.

Four of us spent all the morning using pneumatic hand-help agitators to shake the olives from the fifty trees that were the day’s quota. After a pleasant lunch we were back to work by 2pm amongst the trees finishing the shaking and starting to collect and gather the olives on the ground into numerous slotted plastic containers. Before darkness fell we had gathered two small van loads that had to be taken to the olive mill or frantoio as soon as possible. By 6pm the olives had been unloaded filling two industrial-size containers at Frantoio Fulvio Lenzi in San Gennaro. Lenzi is one of the most highly regarded oil mills or crushers in Tuscany, fully automated and computer controlled during the important stages of extracting the oil. Here we waited our turn with other local single-estate producers of quality oil.

After weighing the two industrial containers full of our olives the scale showed we had gathered over 680 kilos that represented an average of around 13 kilos of olives from each tree that stood on average about 3-4 metres high. Both containers were tipped mechanically into a large hopper where the olives, leaves and twigs etc are then conveyed to be separated and twice washed. The olives are transferred from the first stage of cleaning to the second stage of processing in a completely separate area of the mill. This is where they are immediately cut and pressed through crusher disc working at 1400rpm that helps to avoid unnecessary overheating helping to keep the scent and flavour. The whole process or method is known as ‘continuous cycle’ andis monitored by computer which issues a report of the process and which is required to obtain the necessary documentation for DOP status. The pure oil is finally separated by centrifugal force and allowed to drain into Renzo’s stainless steel containers. By around 9.30pm Renzo returns to the Villa where the oil is stored, finally bottled and labelled manually. 

Renzo passes the time with other oliandoli or olive growers during the evening and with a ‘friend’ at the Frantoio. Normally clean shaven, Renzo grows a beard during the olive harvest but would not say whether this was superstition to insure a good harvest or just one less thing to think about during the very busy period! This year (2014) he informs me that the picking will start around the 20th of October, a bit earlier than last year. The weather has been too wet during the summer and the fruit has also been badly affected by insect damage that will dramatically reduce the crop. The next journal will reveal the outcome!