Tales of Tuscany – Olio Nuovo – Olive Oil

Traditional Olive Oil Pressing and Olio Nuovo:

Twitter can be a wonderful networking tool.  A few months ago I was busy tweeting about my last trip to Tuscany and an Italian lady started to chat to me.  She told me that she loved London and had studied there.  She asked why I wasn’t visiting HER  (as it happens I was on the wrong side of Tuscany, or I might well have done so).  We carried on chatting and sharing, so when I had the chance to return to Tuscany I contacted her and she offered to show us around Pistoia. That offer  seemed very casual, but in a day, Michela managed to pack in some fabulous experiences that we would never had had without her, in addition to helping put together the rest of the itinerary for our trip.  So, I am very much in her debt and rather hope that if she visits London soon I will be able to return the favour and show her a little of my home City.

the crop - olives in tuscany

In Northern Italy olives are harvested and pressed at this time of year.  It is something that I’ve heard about, read about and always been rather fascinated by.  I was thrilled to be taken to visit one of the last traditional mills in Tuscany, owned and run by Mrs Iolanda Cardini, who is 80 years old and has spent the last 47 years working on her oil mill in Quarrata, Tacinaia – Pistoia district. Olives have to be harvested when the weather is dry – any water on the fruit will make it rot quickly, perhaps before it even gets pressed.  And, pressing the olives as close as possible to where they are harvested will achieve the best, freshest and purest flavour.  We were lucky to have a few sunny days, perfect for harvesting and then pressing oil, so on our visit we could see the entire process.

harvesting olives in tuscany

And while large estates have their own presses, communal mills like the one Michela took us to visit have always been used to enable smaller farmers to produce their own oil.

olive waste - olive oil in tuscany

As we approached, we could see a stream of deeply unpleasant looking pulp being spewed from a pipe upstairs in the mill.  And, when we went into the building, the first thing that we noticed was an intense and lingering smell of oil.  A ripe, fruity scent that was quite unmistakable.

The Mill - Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

Upstairs, we spotted the machine which created the pulp.  Olives were tipped unwashed into a large vat,  pulverised with large stone wheels then broken down yet further with a kind of corkscrew shaped macerator.

The harvest - Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

maceration 1 Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

maceration 2 Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

When a kind of muddy mush was produced, the entire mixture was spread out into disks, stacked up and pressed to extract all the juice.


Pressing 1 Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

Pressing 2 Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

Pressing 3 Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

The next process involved a centrifuge and was, so Iolanda told us, the reason washing the olives was unnecessary.  By spinning the liquid, the oil and water were separated and the process completed.

Centrifuge Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

The olives being pressed were brought by local farmers.  Each waiting with his olives to make sure that the oil he got at the end was from HIS harvest.  There were important choices to make that would affect the flavour of the resulting oil, such as whether to include any leaves in the pressing (apparently that adds a peppery flavour) and what mix of black and green olives to use.

Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

At the end of the process, we were treated to a taste of the product.  Quite different to anything I’ve ever seen in shops here, the result is very deep green and slightly cloudy.  It is smooth and buttery with an intense and peppery flavour.

olio nuovo

Called Olio Nuovo it has a very short shelf life (two to three months).  If it is stored in vats, the small particles of fruit that are left in the oil and that make it cloudy will sink, leaving what we know as extra virgin olive oil.  But, if it’s bottled straight away, the particles remain in the oil and will eventually ferment and spoil the oil.

Vats Olive Oil Production in Tuscany

Later in our trip we saw a slightly more modern estate oil product at the Tenuta di Capezzana.  Not much was different.  The olives were washed.  The leaves were removed mechanically and the maceration process and pressing was done as one process. It’s a fascinating operation and the taste and smell of Olio Nuovo will stay with me for ever.

posing - olio nuovo

With many thanks to TuscanyNow for hosting our trip and to Michela our inspired and informed guide. And of course to Iolanda for showing us her Mill.


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    • says

      It was a very interesting experience. We saw a more modern pressing, and it wasn’t so easy to spot what what happening at each stage. But here a lot of it needed manpower, so it was much easier to follow

  1. says

    I have posted this on Pinterest so I can refer to it for my next trip back to Tuscany. I just got back from Florence and was focusing on artisan trades and tradition…watching this olive oil process would be so interesting to me.

    • says

      Do get in touch with Miky, she is a professional tour guide in the area and, as you will see, took us to some fabulous places (and recommended more).

  2. says

    Isn’t social media fabulous?! I had a similar experience connecting with someone over Twitter in Bath, England before my trip there and truly got a local’s perspective to the city and saw things I never would have saw otherwise. And the olive oil looks delicious:-)

  3. says

    Another fabulous post Fiona, and very nostalgic, as my friends in Cyprus used to have an olive grove and I was invited to visit them when it was time to press the olives. I remember having extra extra virgin olive oil dribbled over freshly made bread, divine and a fabulous memory. Karen

  4. says

    I bet this was more interesting than the cheese! I can only imagine how amazing the olive oil tastes when it is just created. What a great experience that must have been!

  5. Elizabeth says

    Love reading your post! My family moved to Tuscany 12 ( has it really been 12?) years ago from London and bought an olive grove and now produce our own olive oil. I love our product, and know from our life in London that there are many who would appreciate it but find it impossible to bring it in, to fight with the big boys. I would love to be able to use social networking to bring like minded people together, any idea how to go about it? Perha we could organise a bbq bash with lots of salads and potluck dishes and i’ll provide my wonderful family farm’s oil? How do i upload some pics?

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