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La raccolta delle olive - Olio Ciccolella

The harvest of olives: how good oil is made

Here we go! It’s autumn time, it’s time to… Olives harvest!
From the first ten days of October, we harvest olives in our Apulian lands. It’s a kind of magic which has been repeating for four generations. The enthusiasm is the same of the very first day.

Our highly specialized workers reach the fields before dawn and harvest olives at the right degree of ripeness to produce a high quality extra virgin olive oil.
Olives of Coratina and Ogliarola barese variety are immediately carried to the oil mill, washed and milled within few hours from the harvesting, producing an extra virgin olive oil which keeps all the Apulian scents.

>> We are producing our New Oil for 2022/23 season! Shippings from 17 October. 

In order to totally understand the methods and the timing behind such delicate moment as that of harvesting, it is helpful to understand how an olive is made.

How an olive is made

The fruit of the olive tree is the drupe, the olive, which usually ripes between October and December. It can be used to produce olive oil or as table olives.

The fruit is a fleshy drupe, more or less big, more or less asymmetrical and rounded. Actually there are ovoid, spheroidal and longer drupes depending on the variety. If we cut an olive in half, we can observe three different anatomical sections: the most external section, called epicarp or peel, the intermediate section, called mesocarp, ant the most internal section, called endocarp or pit.

The external section, peel or epicarp, is covered by a protective wax which avoids water evaporation, therefore protecting olive from parasitic attacks and atmospheric phenomena.

The internal section, mesocarp or flesh, contains huge quantities of oil, about 25-30% of oil within cells in the form of droplets. It is precisely this characteristic that allows oil extraction exclusively by mechanical processes.

If you are curious to know more about different pressing phases and the functioning of the milling system, click HERE.

Finally, the pit or endocarp. has a woody shell enveloping the seed or almond, in which there are small quantities of oil. The simple mechanical pressing is not sufficient to extract thess small quantities; the extraction is possible only through physical and chemical procedures, as it happens for the extraction of all types of seed oils and olive pomace oils.

The period of olive harvest: the ripening

According to the variety and the growing area, the olive harvest starts end September and ends approximately in December. To guarantee a good quality of the extra virgin olive oil, the olive harvest has to be done at the right degree of ripeness. Within the vegetative cycle of the olive tree, the period of olive harvest corresponds to the ripening, that is the moment in which the olive changes its color – according to the variety – from green, to purple, to purplish black.

Essentially, there are two periods of olive harvest.

1) Early harvesting, when olives are still green and intact, undamaged. The result is a high percentage of polyphenols and more intense organoleptic characteristics (fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness);  moreover, early harvesting reduces the risk of parasitic attacks and damages resulting from bad atmospheric phenomena such as hailstorms, low temperatures, wind, etc., despite a lower yield.

>> Frantoio Ciccolella practices only early harvesting. For this reason too, our New Oil is so special and tasty.

2) Late harvesting, on the contrary, is absolutely to be avoided. Indeed, despite a higher yield, it exposes olives to fermentation phenomena. The result is a low percentage of polyphenols in the oil and a lower quality. Indeed, during ripeness, the oil content increases, while the water and sugar content decreases. The concentration of micro elements responsible for oil organoleptic quality is directly proportional to the increasing pigmentation, until the olives reach a pigmentation level beyond which a turnaround occurs. In the ripening final phase, olives loose their volatile and phenolic components, resulting in an organoleptic flattening.

How to harvest the olives: methods and techniques 

Olive harvest is one of the most delicate and important operation in the production process. If not properly done, it can have a negative impact both on oil quality and olive quantities. Not only at the right  degree of ripeness, olive harvest  has to be made through appropriate methods to protect olive intactness. Olive harvesting directly from the olive tree is the only way to produce a superior quality extra virgin olive oil. Olives have to be removed from the tree and dropped on catching nets, avoiding the contact with the soil.

There are different methods of olive harvesting. Here is a list.

  • Hand picking represents the best method for olive harvesting, because it allows to reduce damages to the olives and to the olive trees to the minimum. It is done by hand or throughout special combs. Unfortunately this is the slowest, tiring and expensive method, but it allows to pick olives of the highest quality.
  • Beating is carried by means of poles. Workers use poles with to beat branches, letting olives fall down. This method might obviously damage branches and bruise olives, with absolutely negative consequences for the quality of oil. Ladders are used to reach the highest branches, but they represent a risk to the safety of workers. Today mechanical ladders allow harvesting olives standing on the ground  by means of telescopic olive harvester, ensuring safety and harvesting speed. 
  • Mechanical harvesting by means of mechanical shaker: it is a mechanical arm connected to a motor which shakes the tree trunk, causing the fall of olives. Olives are then gathered in nets placed under the olive trees. If conditions and timing of olive harvesting are respected – as already mentioned, during the ripening – mechanical harvesting allows to reach high and satisfactory percentages of fallen olives.
  • Last method to be mentioned is collecting from the ground, which is to be done by hand or through brushing machines. Clearly, it is a method of olive harvesting that reduces costs and time, but it is totally unsuitable to guarantee the quality of olives. Olives collected from the ground undergo fermentation processes and parasitic attacks with negative consequences for the oil to be extracted. Olives collected from the ground are excessively ripe, often moldy and dirty; oil that is obtained is consequently of the worst quality.

The choice of olive harvesting method is to be made according to business conditions, ground conditions, extension of the olive grove, age of olive trees, workforce availability and many other factors connected to the producers

Frantoio Ciccolella chooses the early harvesting. We harvest green, intact and undamaged olives starting from end September, to ensure high percentages of polyphenols and all the best organoleptic characteristics which an extra virgin olive oil can gift. Our  workers are already working in our lands and in the oil mill to guarantee your shippings on time from the 17th of October.

>> And you, what are you waiting for? Buy the New Ciccolella Oil of the 2022 oil campaign: Coppadoro, the monovarietal of Coratina, or Faresse, monovarietal of Ogliarola barese!