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Olive Harvest in Apulia

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Alternate Routes · Europe · italy · Apulia · Irina Vītola

Olive Harvest in Apulia

Author: Irina Vītola1 COMMENT

Olive Harvest in Apulia

Unlike the usual art and cultural trips to Europe, a reviving of the ancient tradition of working collectively proved to be the added value to this one. Out purpose was olive picking and witnessing the oil extraction process with our own eyes.
Viktor Misiano, art curator and art theoretician, living for half a year in Moscow and half a year in south Italy, once returned to Italy and discovered that his own olive garden in Apulia (Puglia) has been left unharvested.
How can you ever leave olives unpicked?! We immediately offer some help and off we went by car, straight from Bari to the heel of Italy.
On a Sunday morning after sleeping over in an authentic Italian rural masseria, we arrived at a picturesque olive grove. Apulia's landscape is dominated by the reddish color of the earth, and its soil is saturated with ancient fossils, once left behind by reluctantly melting glaciers. Another trait of its scenery is peculiarly twisted trunks of olive trees. One might suggest that it's due to strong wind, but it is not the case this time. Olive trees twist their trunks faithfully following the lavish Italian sun, much like sunflowers.
Olive picking is a comparatively easy task, a great deal of it being mechanized. Special forks are used to harvest olives into nets, and our task is just to remove leaves and small twigs and to pour the olives into boxes.
Raw olives are incredibly bitter. In Apulia olives are typically harvested semi-ripe, while, in Tuscany, for example, they pick only fully mature ones. The oil from semi-ripe olives is considered to be much higher in quality, although smaller amounts can be obtained this way.
After six hours of work our 832 kg of olives travel to oil press, where they have to wait for their turn for further processing. Olive fruit have to be squeezed as soon as possible, otherwise acidity level grows and the quality of oil decreases.
There are two oil squeezing methods, one of them being continua. It is the newest, fully mechanized process used by the majority of oil producers. The other, traditional approach involves manual labor and it is intended to obtain lacrima or olive nectar, ordered mostly by restaurants. Such olive oil is richer, higher in quality and more expensive, although mechanically obtained one is cleaner.
Soon we are taking home barrels of freshly-squeezed olive oil, stopping here and there at worth-visiting destinations of Apulia region on our way.
One of them is Alberobello famous for its trulli - the traditional stone dwellings. Alberobello is situated in a valley between two mountains, formerly a river bed. This small and picturesque town consists of peculiar whitewashed houses with conical roofs made of gray limestone slabs.
An incredibly beautiful place is also the city of Lecce, commonly nicknamed "The Florence of the South" because of its rich Baroque architectural monuments, and Martina Franca - a true gem of white southern architecture.
Be sure not to miss the mystical Matera town of the neighboring Basilicata region, especially its ancient cave dwellings called the Sassi di Matera ("stones of Matera"). This town is a true piece of cake for antiquity explorers and it serves as a perfect stand-in for ancient Jerusalem for film makers.

There is yet another must-do while visiting Apulia - surrendering to the rhythm of pizzica, the traditional folk dance of the region. We had this chance as our host at masseria kindly offered to invite a pizzica teacher to our place on a rainy afternoon. I had already once seen this dance from the south of Italy - it was in St. Mark's Square in Venice, and it charmed me very much. Danced by people of opposite sexes, it is intended as courtship dance, but without even touching. Rhythmical music and many attractive chorographical elements are typical to it.

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