Today we took an optional excursion to the city of Lucca, followed by a visit to the Colle Verde farm, where they produce organic wine and extra virgin olive oil.
Lucca is just a half hour outside of Florence, and I wish we were able to spend more time there since it was such a charming, traditional look at Italian life. We had a couple of hours to walk around and peek into the many shops and visit the city’s cathedral, where some beautiful organ music was playing. We paused briefly for a much-needed cafe stop, then it was on to the olive oil farm!
The scenery on the ride up was absolutely breathtaking, and all you could see for miles were hills and olive oil trees. And right when we got there, a big spring thunderstorm broke out—complete with hail! We waited inside the dining area until the hail let up, then toured the olive oil press.
Colle Verde makes a small amount of olive oil (about 20 liters per tree) but they’re lucky enough to own their own olive oil press. Cristina, the farm’s owner, explained that olives are harvested in November and must immediately be pressed in order to keep them from oxidizing and losing their flavor. The entire olive is pressed (pit included) before the paste and oil are separated. The oil is then bottled while the paste is used as fertilizer for the olive trees.
Some interesting facts about olive oil production:
1. To be considered extra virgin olive oil, the acidity must be no greater than 0.1 percent. The color of the oil doesn’t matter at all.
2. The difference between extra virgin olive oil and regular oil, besides the proper acidity, is whether it’s cold pressed. True extra virgin olive oil should only be cold pressed; too much heat burns the olives and changes the flavor.
3. Light is olive oil’s worst enemy. When buying olive oil, look for a dark or colored bottle that will block out the light and keep the oil fresher for longer.
4. To determine whether an olive oil is really a product of Italy, the label should say what region the olive oil was produced in, rather than just “product of Italy.”
It was awesome to see how such a small place (there are only 10 employees!) produces such incredible oil—we got to taste a sample in the olive press room. Then, we sampled a lot more over a seasonal lunch of fresh vegetables, cheese, meat and bread. We learned that the best way Italians eat olive oil is to make a mixture with a splash of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper, then dip fresh vegetables into the oil. It’s a great way to taste the olive oil without taking anything away from the flavor.
After lunch, we were able to take home some souvenirs (and boy, I can’t wait to use the olive oil at home) before heading back to Florence. Everyone was in good spirits after a great lunch and lots of good wine, even though the hailstorm put us a little behind schedule! Tomorrow we leave Florence and make our way to Siena for—you guessed it—more wine!
Melissa is tasting her way through Food & Wine: Flavors of Tuscany and Umbria. Follow along as she checks off all of her food-centric to-dos.